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There are a variety of differences between the education system in China and the education system in the United States. While people are often aware of the differences for older students, many people may be surprised to find that these educational differences begin far before middle school, or even first grade. As early as preschool American and Chinese school systems and educational expectations have already started to diverge. Understanding what preschool-aged Chinese students experience in their regular classrooms can make it easier to understand what expectations these young students and their parents may have from an online class. A good understanding of a student’s day also helps the teacher ask appropriate questions and teach relevant vocabulary words.

Little Asian Preschool Age Girl Playing Plastic Blocks At Nurser
Photo courtesy of © Parinyabinsuk |

Daycare and Early Child Care in China

When learning about preschool education in China, it’s important to note that the term kindergarten is often used to refer to what many Americans might describe as preschool. While in America, kindergarten refers only to the one year before first grade, in China, it is often used to refer to the three years of education children receive between the ages of three and five. From birth through age two children often attend nurseries, similar to American daycare centers, though some two-year-olds may attend kindergarten style classes as well.

A Rapidly Expanding Part of Education in China

Kindergarten or preschool education in China is not required by law, but most children do attend. The Chinese government estimates that by 2020, 85% of Chinese children aged three to five will be in kindergarten or preschool. China is also focusing on making more affordable preschools available to children living in rural areas and children from more impoverished families. Many education companies are beginning to look into digitization and online resources for preschool children and their families.1 This can have applications both to supplement in-person education for children already attending preschool and to make preschool more affordable and accessible for children who have not been able to attend.

China has made a variety of changes and developments in its early education programs. Most recent reforms to the Chinese education system as it relates to young children have focused on both increasing the number of children participating in preschool education in China and also in developing new curricula. Chinese preschools have been shaped by a combination of traditional Chinese culture, communist ideology, and western ideology and views on education. These different schools of thought have come together to create a preschool program that shares many similarities with preschools in the US, but also has many meaningful differences.2

Expectations and Preschool Education in China

One thing that surprises many people from the United States is how early many children in other parts of the world start preschool. Preschool education in China often begins as early as two years old, as American expat Tatum Hawkins was surprised to learn. These aren’t simply daycare centers or nurseries but a meaningful part of a child’s education. Preschoolers in China also often go to school for a full day, instead of the half-day programs often seen in the US. While different from the programs she was used to, Hawkins moved past her initial hesitation about sending young children to school for such long hours and ended up being thrilled with the preschool education her children received. Her daughters easily and happily adapted to the school’s schedule and had a very positive experience.3

Preschools and kindergartens in China are far more focused on repeated practice and memorization than are their American counterparts. While American kindergartens also have some structured learning and memorization, they have a much heavier focus on play.4

One intriguing study by Yamamoto and Li, comparing recent Chinese immigrants to European Americans, found that while both groups considered it important that their children receive quality preschool education, they had different views on what an excellent preschool education would look like. Chinese parents were less likely to value individualism and self-expression than their European American peers and instead were more likely to view preschool as “a place to teach skills and to provide children with a good academic start”.5 Both European Americans and Chinese immigrants surveyed considered a high-quality teacher to be the most important factor to look for in a preschool, though the two groups had slightly different views on what makes a high-quality teacher. Chinese immigrant parents were particularly likely to consider it essential that the teacher be experienced and teach good moral values.

Some of the competitiveness and concerns about rigor regarding early education in China may look familiar to American families living in wealthier areas of cities like New York City or San Francisco. There, too, preschool admissions can become highly competitive. For others, this view of preschool may seem extremely odd. It is helpful to remember that while they may express it in different ways in different regions, all parents want the best for their children. Having specific ideas of what preschool education should look like is one way that parents try to ensure their children have the best start in life.

Citations for Preschool Education in China
1 Li, Xia. “China to Provide More Children with Affordable Preschool Education.” Xinhua, November 15, 2018.
2 Zhu1, Jiaxiong. “Early Childhood Education and Relative Policies in China.” International Journal of Child Care and Education Policy. SpringerOpen, February 20, 2015.
3 Hawkins, Tatum. “In China, We Send Our 2-Year-Olds to Preschool – and It’s Amazing.” Babble, May 2, 2016.
4 Pang, Yanhui, and Dean Richey. “Preschool Education in China and the United States: a Personal Perspective.” Early Child Development and Care 177, no. 1 (January 2007): 1–13.
5 “Login: SUNY Empire State College.” Login | SUNY Empire State College. Accessed December 9, 2019.

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