Julie Fisher is an independent Early Years Adviser and Visiting Professor of Early Childhood Education at Oxford Brookes University. She held the post of Early Years Adviser in Oxfordshire for 11 years, before which she was lecturer in early childhood education at the University of Reading. What’s wrong with Ofsted’s Bold Beginnings report? Traditional early childhood education in China currently faces both internal and external challenges changing family structures and increased influence of foreign ideas and values. The one child policy in the People’s Republic of China is altering family roles and child-rearing practices, raising concerns about the possible harmful effects of too much attention and pampering. As China becomes more open to outside contact and influence, traditional teaching comes into conflict with Western ideas about “developmentally appropriate practices” and goals of creativity, autonomy and critical thinking. Have these goals and practices, which are so prevalent in the United States today, influenced Chinese early childhood education?
In 1991, I had ample opportunity to explore such questions when I spent seven months teaching in China. I drew much of my information from observations of early childhood programs in Xi’An, where I taught at Xi’An Foreign Languages University. My conclusions are consistent with what I observed and heard in interviews with teachers, parents and teacher educators throughout China. I was able, however, to arrange more informal visits through Chinese friends and travel companions. Children enter elementary school at age 6. There are three types of early childhood program for children under 6: nurseries, kindergarten and pre-primary programs. Nurseries serve children under age 3.
Small group size and many caregivers assure prompt, abundant care. Since physical care and nurturing are the primary goals, the caregivers are trained as “nurses” rather than teachers. Programs for 2-year-olds are often combined with kindergartens. In China, the term “kindergarten” refers to full-day programs serving children from age 3 to age 6. The programs serve the twofold purpose of child care and educational preparation. A variety of sources provide kindergarten programs – the government, government-licensed private individuals and neighborhood committees, and work units.
Work units are government-operated comprehensive communities in which workers and their families work and reside, such as those organized around a college or factory. Children are generally grouped by age in kindergarten. Education replaces physical care as the primary emphasis in this program. Class size increases with age, ranging from 20 to 40 children. Each group typically has two teachers and a nurse.