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China : Newsline
Educating young children left behind in China’s poor and remote communities
Early childhood care and education is the theme of the 2007 meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All to be convened by UNESCO on 14-16 November in Cairo, Egypt. Here is one in a series of related stories.
ANSHAN, China, 9 November 2006 – Zheng Qing lives in a remote village in the Cangxi county of China’s Sichuan Province. Her mother left home and her father works as a migrant labourer, so she has been raised by her grandmother. Until she started kindergarten two years ago, she was introverted and unwilling to play with other children.
Qing’s predicament is not uncommon in China, which has nearly 100 million children under the age of six. Only about 41 per cent of those between the ages of three and six attend pre-school. The educational needs of millions of other young children often cannot be met, especially in rural and poor areas where there are not sufficient resources for early childhood development.
To increase the numbers of children in pre-school, China has set in motion – with help from UNICEF – a National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Development. In provinces where the policy is in effect, enrolment in pre-schools has risen to more than 50 per cent.
At first, her grandmother gave volunteers from the centre the cold shoulder, but they kept visiting her home every two weeks anyway. Then one day, in August 2004, in the pouring rain, volunteers arrived with toys and children’s books for Qing, the bottom of their trouser legs rolled up high and umbrellas held firmly.
Qing’s grandmother was touched by the gesture and brought a basin of hot water for them to wash their feet. After that, she was warm and welcoming with the volunteers, and invited neighbouring children and their parents and grandparents to her house to participate in educational activities.
At first, Qing was timid and hid behind her granny. The volunteers told her stories and invited other children to play games with her. She was encouraged to express herself during the games to help her build up confidence.
After spending time with Qing, the volunteers determined that her diet lacked protein. They asked her grandmother to give her one egg daily, fresh vegetables, more bean drinks and porridge. The Qiping centre also sent milk powder for Qing and her health improved.
In September 2004 she was enrolled in kindergarten, where she has continued to thrive – an example of the dramatic difference that early childhood care and education can make.