China’s New Kindergarten Policy

On November 15, China’s government issued new rules about kindergartens.

1. Lots of new public ones seem to be on the way. From Bloomberg:

In new guidelines for the industry published late on Thursday, China’s government said it wants to build more public kindergartens. It called for public institutions to educate half of the nation’s kindergarten students by 2020.

Public K’s are (if I understand correctly) 10% to 20% of the cost of private ones…in a big city, annual tuition of maybe $2,000 to $4,000 US, compared to $20,000 for a high-end private school.

In the USA, about a third of kids attend publicly-financed preschool (our equivalent of Chinese “kindergarten.” That’s up from 14% in 2002.

Quality is a concern.

“Quality trumps quantity. There’s no point in spending money to give kids a program that doesn’t help them,” Steven Barnett said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

What is “most distressing” is states’ tendency to trade quality for quantity — and they aren’t even adding seats that quickly, he said.

“It’s going to take us a very, very long time … at the current pace to reach every child in every state, and yet we don’t prioritize quality to ensure that programs are highly effective for kids,” he said.

How can China make sure its new kindergartens are actually high quality?

2. The other development: for-profit kindergartens cannot be financed via the stock market anymore. Shares halved overnight in RYB, the biggest operator, with 1,800 kindergartens.

So investment in Chinese private kindergartens will decline. Since these new schools seemed to be modernizing the teaching style, this may be a net negative.


China faces the same risk here as the USA: more access but low quality.

My advice would be to focus on 3 things:

1. New schools are hard to launch well. And research suggests that the early trajectory of a school predicts its long term quality. Yet there is literally almost no training in China on how to launch well. Remedy that.

2. Brand new teachers can’t figure everything out at once. Lesson plans that are very specific on what to do and say (that embed the pedagogy alongside the contact) — helps new teachers a great deal. Make that curriculum available.

3. Skilled teachers can deal with 20 little kids at once because they have such automatic responses…this kid just pushed her neighbor; that kid is crying; over here there’s a question; over there is a really gross runny nose.

New teachers need practice before the school year starts, to “fake it to they make it.” Like this from the grad school I helped start:

This training is hyper-prescriptive and detailed regarding the nuances of great teaching. Our year of training allows for extensive practice and coaching, to the point where subtle teaching moves become automatic.

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