Traditional early childhood education in China currently faces both internal and external challenges changing family structures and increased influence of foreign ideas and tasks of physical education of children of early preschool age. 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.