Officials order lighter educational burden
Shanghai is cracking down on the teaching of age- and grade-inappropriate content at kindergartens and preschool training centers for children between 3 and 6 years old.
The decision follows an announcement earlier this month from the Ministry of Education that youngsters should not be taught advanced academic subjects. Specifically, the ministry emphasized that kindergartens and training centers for preschoolers should be prohibited from teaching Chinese phonics, Chinese characters, computer skills, English and other academic subjects included in primary school curricula. Homework in these subjects has also been prohibited.
Instead, children under 6 should be taught using games and activities based on their interests and requirements. Teaching that emphasizes recitation, memorization, copying or calculation is discouraged.
For their part, primary schools are asked not to recruit students based on academic knowledge, test results or competition certificates.
The Shanghai Education Commission, city and district education authorities, as well as Shanghai’s educational supervision office will all work to ensure that kindergartens and training centers follow through with these new policies.
In recent years, the Shanghai Education Commission has urged kindergartens to focus on children’s physical and psychological growth. It has also printed brochures and organized talks for parents, warning them that pressuring children with age-inappropriate content weakens interest in learning.
Wang Hailan, an associate professor of preschool education at Shanghai Normal University, said that most kindergartens in the city will follow the commission’s requests, but private training centers are more difficult to monitor.
“The academic classes at training agencies survive because there is demand for them,” she said. “Many parents are willing to send their children there to gain an advantage in the educational competition.”
Echoing officials, Wang pointed out that teaching method is more important than content in preschool education.
“For kids in urban areas, it’s natural that parents or teachers will teach them some words when reading picture books, playing games or even reading road signs. And it’s natural for them to learn how to use computers,” Wang said. “The problem is that you should not ask them to sit down for long classes and push them to recite, memorize or write.”
Wang said plenty of research shows that preschool education should focus on cultivating learning habits, thinking abilities and the willpower to overcome obstacles; all of which are developed better through play than lecturing.
Xiong Bingqi, vice director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said that the new requirements must be enforced equally at kindergartens and training centers if the country is to develop a healthy educational environment.
“If kindergartens stop teaching academic content, but the training organizations continue to do so, the burden on children will not be reduced because parents will make them cram after class,” he said.
Shanghai launched a separate campaign last year to improve the regulation of training centers. Among other requirements, centers were told to reduce the burden on students. Since the campaign’s launch, 500 unqualified centers have been closed and 15 academic competitions have been canceled.
Regarding the latest crackdown, Chen Yun, the mother of a 5-year-old girl, said she would wait and see if training centers adhere to the new requirements.
“There are so many training organizations teaching academic courses, all in the name of preparing kindergarten children for primary schools...” she explained, while also confessing that her daughter was enrolled in such courses.
Michelle Qian said her 4-year-old daughter also takes extracurricular classes in English and logic. Such subjects are popular with many parents who want to give their child a leg up in their later education.
“I know it might be a little bit early for her to learn these things,” said Qian. “But so many other children are learning at training organizations and I also hear that some private kindergartens teach academic content. I will not take the risk to let her study nothing and be left behind.”
“Only when no academic classes are offered at kindergartens and training organizations, can I rest assured that she doesn’t need to take after school classes,” she added.