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Early childhood education in China.

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 People's Republic
A political organization founded and controlled by a national Communist party.
 of China is altering family roles and child-rearing practices, raising concerns about the possible harmful effects of too much attention and pampering. A study of single child families in the Beijing area found that these "little emperors and princesses" were more egocentric egocentric /ego·cen·tric/ (-sen´trik) self-centered; preoccupied with one's own interests and needs; lacking concern for others.

, less persistent and less cooperative than children with siblings (Jiao jiao   also chiao
n. pl. jiao also chiao
See Table at currency.

[Chinese ji
, Guiping & Qicheng, 1986). How have these children adjusted to schools? Or have the schools changed to accommodate them?

As China becomes more open to outside contact and influence, traditional teaching comes into conflict with Western ideas about "developmentally appropriate practices Developmentally appropriate practice (or DAP) is a perspective within early childhood education whereby a teacher or child caregiver nurtures a child's social/emotional, physical, and cognitive development by basing all practices and decisions on (1) theories of child development, (2) " and goals of creativity, autonomy and critical thinking. Have these goals and practices, which are so prevalent in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area.  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.

It is difficult to observe the ordinary functioning of a typical school in China because officially approved and arranged visits for foreigners Foreigners


the condition of being an alien.


Law. the seizure of foreign subjects to enforce a claim for justice or other right against their nation.

gypsyologist, gipsyologist

 are usually made to "model" programs and involve special arrangements and performances (Gentry, 1981; Shepherd, 1991). I was able, however, to arrange more informal visits through Chinese friends and travel companions. My most extensive experience was as an English language English language, member of the West Germanic group of the Germanic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Germanic languages). Spoken by about 470 million people throughout the world, English is the official language of about 45 nations.  teacher in a Xi'An child care center, which was considered a typical rather than a model center. My role as a participant-observer allowed me to witness the center's normal functioning over a period of time and gain deeper understanding of the children through personal interaction.

Three Types of Early Childhood Programs

Children enter elementary school elementary school: see school.  at age 6. There are three types of early childhood programs 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. About 20 percent of the 3- to 6-year-olds attend kindergarten (Zhong, 1989). The programs serve the twofold purpose of child care and educational preparation. The troublesome dichotomy between these two functions often found in the United States (Caldwell, 1990) is not an issue in China. There is no history of a dual development of one type of full-day program to provide care for children of working mothers and another type of half-day program to provide education for children of nonemployed mothers.

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. Government regulations in 1981 recommended three groupings: juniors (3-year-olds), middle (4-year-olds) and seniors (5-year-olds) (Cleverley, 1985). 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.

Large, affluent centers also often have one or more doctors on the staff to care for sick or injured in·jure  
tr.v. in·jured, in·jur·ing, in·jures
1. To cause physical harm to; hurt.

2. To cause damage to; impair.

 children. They also provide other health-related services, such as performing health screenings, giving immunizations and planning nutritious nutritious /nu·tri·tious/ (noo-trish´us) affording nourishment.

Providing nourishment; nourishing.


affording nourishment.

An alternative type of early childhood program is the pre-primary classroom, which is a part of the elementary school. It is typically a half-day program serving children the year prior to 1st grade. Comparable to U.S. public kindergartens, these classes usually place greater emphasis upon academics and use teaching methods similar to those of the Chinese elementary classrooms.


The nationally prescribed curriculum includes language, math, art, music, physical education and general knowledge, which is a combination of science and social studies (Spodek, 1988). Each class session focuses upon a particular curriculum area. In the language classes, children learn to read and write simple Chinese characters, plus pinyin (the phonetic pho·net·ic
1. Of or relating to phonetics.

2. Representing the sounds of speech with a set of distinct symbols, each designating a single sound.
 romanization of Chinese The romanization of Chinese is the use of the Latin alphabet to write Chinese. Chinese has been written in Chinese characters since about 1500 B.C. Chinese characters do not represent phonemes directly.

There are many uses for Chinese romanization systems.
). In math classes, they learn number concepts, numeral numeral, symbol denoting anumber. The symbol is a member of a family of marks, such as letters, figures, or words, which alone or in a group represent the members of a numeration system.  recognition and addition; manipulatives are frequently incorporated into the lessons.

The emphasis upon academic work varies with the school and the age of the children. Academics are generally not given major emphasis until children reach age 5. The pre-primary classrooms associated with elementary schools stress academic goals more than do the kindergartens. Parents often want their children to begin academic work early, believing it will give them a head start in the competitive struggle for scholastic success--considered the major route to future opportunities. The competitive and selective entry procedures to "key" and many better neighborhood schools heighten height·en  
v. height·ened, height·en·ing, height·ens
1. To raise or increase the quantity or degree of; intensify.

2. To make high or higher; raise.

 this perceived need for an early start (Hawkins & Stites, 1991). Key schools are highly selective schools designed for academically superior students.

Singing and dancing occupy an important place in the curriculum. Even 2-year-olds may participate in well-rehearsed public performances of song and dance routines.

The following sections describe the physical environment, schedule, curriculum, teaching methods and discipline of the Chinese kindergarten centers, where most of my observations took place.

Physical Environment

A kindergarten often has several classroom buildings surrounding an enclosed en·close   also in·close
tr.v. en·closed, en·clos·ing, en·clos·es
1. To surround on all sides; close in.

2. To fence in so as to prevent common use: enclosed the pasture.
 courtyard. This courtyard serves as the playground and is used extensively between classroom lessons. The playground contains equipment for large motor activities, including slides, merry-go-rounds, climbers This list of climbers includes both mountaineers and rock climbers, since many (though not all) climbers engage in both types of activities. The list also includes boulderers and ice climbers.  and swings. Bright colors and dragon or elephant shapes provide added appeal. The ground cover is usually a sturdy brick or concrete, with no sand, grass or dirt to soften falls. A few trees, bushes and flowers do, however, beautify the environment. Children are generally free to choose their own activities, with little teacher-directed activities or even supervision.

Each group of children has its own large classroom, plus a separate room with beds for afternoon naps. Several groups of children generally share toilet facilities and washrooms. Each group in the model school at the Xi'An Teachers College has a self-contained space, complete with classroom, sleeping room, toilet and washroom. The younger children even have their own playground.

The classrooms contrast sharply with a typical American preschool. The space is not organized into special interest areas and equipment is scarce or not easily accessible to children. American preschools are supplied with unit blocks, dramatic play centers, open shelves filled with art supplies, sand and water tables. In China, however, small tables and chairs for each child occupy much of the room. A large open space may be set aside at one end for group activities, such as dancing.

The better equipped centers may possess one shelf of toys and books available for children's use during their free time. Elaborate, artistic, teacher-made decorations and children's work brighten bright·en  
tr. & intr.v. bright·ened, bright·en·ing, bright·ens
To make or become bright or brighter.

 up otherwise drab rooms. One artistically talented teacher painted large murals of children and animals in the hallways. Another placed a large, colorful clown on the wall as part of a weather wheel. Children's work varied greatly and included such items as mobiles, math papers, crayon drawings the act or art of drawing with crayons; a drawing made with crayons.

See also: Crayon
 and paper foldings paper folding
 Japanese origami

Art of folding objects out of paper without cutting, pasting, or decorating. Its early history is unknown, but it seems to have developed from the older art of folding cloth.

Typical Daily Schedule

The length of the school day reflects the needs of working parents. At the Xi'An Foreign Languages University, kindergarten children begin arriving around eight o'clock. Class sessions alternate with free-play time. The length and number of these classes increase as children grow older, varying from six 15-minute sessions per week for the youngest to fourteen 35-minute sessions for the oldest (Lystad, 1987). Following a hot, nutritious lunch, children take a long nap, eat a snack and then have free-play time. Families, often grandparents grandparents nplabuelos mpl

grandparents grand nplgrands-parents mpl

grandparents grand npl
, pick up the children after work at about five or six o'clock. Instead of riding home in the family car, these children either walk to their nearby homes or ride on the back of the family bike.

Learning social skills is also considered an important part of the curriculum, particularly for younger children. Along with respecting the teacher and obeying school rules, children learn to help others and solve disagreements constructively. One teacher expressed concern about a common problem, the shy child Shy Child is a band from New York City consisting of Pete Cafarella on vocals and keytar and Nate Smith on drums. The duo was formed in New York in the summer of 2000, Cafarella and Smith having previously played together in the band El Guapo (later called Supersystem). . She described her efforts to help these children feel comfortable and speak up more.

Teaching Methods

While much of the curriculum content is similar to a typical American program, the teaching methods are quite different from the "developmentally appropriate practices" advocated by early childhood educators This article or section is in need of attention from an expert on the subject.
Please help recruit one or [ improve this article] yourself. See the talk page for details.
 in the United States (NAEYC NAEYC National Association for the Education of Young Children (Washington, DC) , 1986). Children seldom work independently or in small groups on self-selected tasks. Instead, the emphasis is upon teacher-directed, total group instruction. All children are expected to do the same thing at the same time. For example, in a typical art lesson the teacher demonstrates how to fold and twist tissue paper into butterflies. She then gives guidance to those children doing it incorrectly before proceeding to the next step of pasting the butterfly onto paper and drawing antennae. Drawing lessons often consist of children copying an object drawn by the teacher.

Even when using manipulatives, all children use the same kind at the same time. For example, one class of children might play independently with Legos, each child using just a few pieces, while in another room each child plays with a tiny portion of Playdough. The importance of the whole group instructional approach appears to outweigh the limitations of minimal supplies. Even such practices as going to the bathroom are often done in a group, with the explanation that "It's good for children to learn to regulate their bodies and attune at·tune  
tr.v. at·tuned, at·tun·ing, at·tunes
1. To bring into a harmonious or responsive relationship: an industry that is not attuned to market demands.

 their rhythms to those of their classmates Classmates can refer to either:
  •, a social networking website.
  • Classmates (film), a 2006 Malayalam blockbuster directed by Lal Jose, starring Prithviraj, Jayasurya, Indragith, Sunil, Jagathy, Kavya Madhavan, Balachandra Menon, ...
" (Tobin, Wu & Davidson, 1989, 105).

I was surprised at the independence and lack of peer interaction in these group activities. Since China has a socialist ideology, I expected more lessons to use cooperative interactions and in order to emphasize group rather than individual achievement. The encouragement of group rather than individual goals was evident, however, in the emphasis on teaching children altruistic al·tru·ism  
1. Unselfish concern for the welfare of others; selflessness.

2. Zoology Instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species.
 and nurturing behaviors. Children helped one another with dressing and often gave up a prized toy to a playmate with no prodding by the teacher.

All children are expected to proceed at the same pace. The child is responsible for keeping up and poor performance is usually attributed to "not working hard enough." The solution is to admonish the child to work more diligently.

The teaching method and the available materials limit opportunities for creative expression or pursuit of individual interests. Ample materials necessary for open-ended, unstructured exploration are seldom available. Sand and water play, blocks and wood-working equipment are rare. Art supplies are typically used for teacher-directed, rather than child-initiated, activities.

Guidance and Discipline

What is considered acceptable school behavior? During group activities, children are expected to give their complete attention to the teacher and participate fully. Talking or playing with other children is not allowed during this time. Respect for the teacher and prompt, unquestioning obedience are expected. During free-play time, however, noisy and active social interactions are quite acceptable. Teachers encourage harmonious peer relationships, in which children respect the rights of others and help each other.

I was impressed with how well the children meet these expectations. They generally appear to be orderly, attentive, hard-working and eager to please the teacher. I saw very few incidents of peer conflict or inattentive in·at·ten·tive  
Exhibiting a lack of attention; not attentive.

 or disruptive behavior during group activities, and no cases of disrespect or lack of prompt obedience to the teacher's requests.

Some of the guidance and discipline methods differ from standard practices in the United States. A widely used technique is public correction and criticism, not just for misbehavior but also for poor performance. Children who are not doing well or have made a mistake are commonly singled out in public. One teacher removed two young girls from a group practicing a dance, asking them to sit down and watch the others because they were "not trying hard enough." In a pre-primary class where children completed a phonics phonics

Method of reading instruction that breaks language down into its simplest components. Children learn the sounds of individual letters first, then the sounds of letters in combination and in simple words.
 task on the chalkboard, the teacher required those who had made a mistake to stand up and acknowledge their error.

Teachers do not appear concerned about any possible psychological harm resulting from these practices, such as lowered self-esteem. Rather, they believe such corrections will help the child work harder so as to avoid future mistakes. The threat of a public reprimand REPRIMAND, punishment. The censure which in some cases a public office pronounces against an offender.
     2. This species of punishment is used by legislative bodies to punish their members or others who have been guilty of some impropriety of conduct towards them.
 and "loss of face" appears to be a strong, pervasive influence upon children's behavior. The importance of "face" has a long history in Chinese culture. Loss of face results from public embarrassment and failure to meet group expectations. The child learns early to keep the approval of the social group, for loss of face is a reflection upon the whole family (Hu, 1944).

Positive reinforcement positive reinforcement,
n a technique used to encourage a desirable behavior. Also called
positive feedback, in which the patient or subject receives encouraging and favorable communication from another person.
 for good behavior Orderly and lawful action; conduct that is deemed proper for a peaceful and law-abiding individual.

The definition of good behavior depends upon how the phrase is used.
 is also used extensively. Teachers praise and recognize children who are doing well, often pointing out "the best ones" in class. Children receive rewards, such as red stars, for helping another child, answering questions in class or doing well on written work.

Effect of One Child Policy

Does a difficult transition occur for the only child who goes from being the center of attention at home to being part of a large group expected to obey and conform? Both parents and teachers told me that children may experience a difficult time at first, crying and wanting to go home, but usually they accept the situation and quickly adjust to school routines. Teachers try to comfort and distract such children by interesting them in new toys. Teachers seldom have a problem getting new children to participate in group activities. As one teacher stated, "When they see all the others participating, they do not want to be different." The schools assume that these only children will adapt to the traditional school expectations and, in most cases, this adjustment appears to occur without undue stress or rebellion.

The one child policy has, however, affected the schools in another way. It has strengthened the emphasis upon education for young children and the families' strong involvement and investment in their only child. Teachers report that not only are parents very interested in their child's school success, but they are also very quick to criticize teachers if they feel their child has been treated unfairly or too harshly.


Early childhood education programs in the People's Republic of China differ significantly from those in the United States, particularly in teaching methods. Both its socialist ideals and Confucian traditions may help explain the persistence of the whole group, teacher-directed emphasis, rather than the use of individual choices and creative self-expression. This emphasis may be changing, however, as a current reform movement works to foster more creativity and autonomy (Spodek, 1989).

My experiences in China confirm the view that the Chinese greatly love and value their children, regarding them as family and national resources. In spite of limited resources, they make major investments in their children and the education system. Through these investments, they effectively provide an early childhood education system that fosters obedient, hard-working children.


Caldwell, B. (1990). "Educare": A new professional identity. Dimensions, 18, 3-6.

Cleverley, J. (1985). The schooling of China. Sydney, Australia: George Allen George Allen may refer to:
  • George Allen (U.S. politician) (born 1952), former Republican United States Senator
  • George Allen (athlete), American college and professional football player
  • George Allen (football) (1918–1990), American football coach
 & Unwin Australia Ply Ltd.

Gentry, J. (1981). Early childhood education in the People's Republic of China
This article is about education in mainland China. See Education in Hong Kong and Education in Macau for education in Hong Kong and Macao respectively. For education in the Republic of China (Taiwan), see Education in the Republic of China (Taiwan).
. Childhood Education, 58, 92-96.

Hawkins, J., & Stites, R. (1991). Strengthening the future's foundation: Elementary education elementary education
 or primary education

Traditionally, the first stage of formal education, beginning at age 5–7 and ending at age 11–13.
 reform in the People's Republic of China. The Elementary School Journal Published by the University of Chicago Press, The Elementary School Journal is an academic journal which has served researchers, teacher educators, and practitioners in elementary and middle school education for over one hundred years. , 92, 41-60.

Hu, H. (1944). The Chinese concept of "face." American Anthropologists American Anthropologist is the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). It is known for publishing a wide range of work in anthropology, including articles on cultural, biological and linguistic anthropology and archeology. , 46, 45-64.

Jiao, S., Guiping, J., & Qicheng, J. (1986). Comparative study of behavioral qualities of only children and sibling sibling /sib·ling/ (sib´ling) any of two or more offspring of the same parents; a brother or sister.

 children. Child Development, 57, 357-361.

Lystad, M. (1987). Children of China: A commentary. Children Today, 16, 20-22.

National Association for the Education of Young Children The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the largest nonprofit association in the United States representing early childhood education teachers, experts, and advocates in center-based and family day care. . (1986). Position statement on developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth to age eight. Young Children, 41(6), 3-19.

Shepherd, G. (1991). A glimpse of kindergarten--Chinese style. Young Children, 47(1), 11-15.

Spodek, B. (1988). Conceptualizing today's kindergarten curriculum. Elementary School Journal, 89, 203-211.

Spodek, B. (1989). Preparation of early childhood teachers in the People's Republic of China. Childhood Education, 65, 268-273.

Tobin, J., Wu, D., & Davidson, D. (1989). Preschool in three cultures: Japan, China, and the United States. New Haven New Haven, city (1990 pop. 130,474), New Haven co., S Conn., a port of entry where the Quinnipiac and other small rivers enter Long Island Sound; inc. 1784. Firearms and ammunition, clocks and watches, tools, rubber and paper products, and textiles are among the many , CT: Yale University Yale University, at New Haven, Conn.; coeducational. Chartered as a collegiate school for men in 1701 largely as a result of the efforts of James Pierpont, it opened at Killingworth (now Clinton) in 1702, moved (1707) to Saybrook (now Old Saybrook), and in 1716 was  Press.

Zhong, S. (1989). Young children's care and education in the People's Republic of China. In P. Olmsted & D. Weikart (Eds.), How nations serve young children: Profiles of child care and education in fourteen countries. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press.

See also:

Chen, J. Q., & Goldsmith, L. T. (1991). Social and behavioral characteristics of Chinese only children: A review of research. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 5, 127-139.

JoAn Vaughan is a Teacher in the Child Study and Teacher Education Department, Stephens College Stephens College is a liberal arts women's college located in Columbia, Missouri, a city of about 90,000 residents. It is one of the oldest institutions of higher education for women in the United States. , Columbia, Missouri
This article is about the U.S. city in the state of Missouri. For other uses, see Columbia (disambiguation).

Columbia (IPA: /kə.lʌə) is the fifth largest city in Missouri and the largest city in central Missouri.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Vaughan, JoAn
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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