Pushing kids up the pecking order

Updated: 2013-09-20 00:00

By Fan Feifei (China Daily)

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For many parents it's a case of the early bird catches the worm, and they are willing to pay to ensure their kids to be the first on the lawn, as Fan Feifei reports.

Wang Yi, 33, a post-80 generation father working in the IT industry, sends his 2-year-old daughter to an early education center at a shopping mall each Sunday. "I want her to meet and communicate with other children," he said.

The price of lessons at the education center is relatively high, but Wang said the family could afford it. He purchased 100 lessons for more than 10,000 yuan ($1635) when he registered his daughter at the center half a year ago.

Pushing kids up the pecking order

Belgian John Lee plays with children from an early education center in Tianjin on April 5. He can speak Chinese fluently, and is now one of the most popular teachers in the center. Fu Wenchao / for China Daily

"She often has two classes at the weekend because my wife and I need to work from Monday to Friday, so we haven't got the time to accompany her during the week," he added.

At the center, Wang's daughter plays musical games, and does activities to develop her fine motor skills.

"Her mother also has classes with her, where they interact and share some fun together," said Wang.

He said his daughter has become bolder since joining the center and she likes to talk with her friends there.

"The early education center is a transition for her. We hope it will help her adapt quicker and more easily when she enters kindergarten in six months."

He added that when she gets older they want her to study English and learn the piano, and prepare for the International Mathematical Olympiad.

They are willing to invest on her education, he said.

Other parents are also willing to open their purse strings to pay for their children's education.

Tan Diqiu, a post-80 generation mother, spends about 10,000 yuan a year on early education for her two- year-old son. "Although the cost of early education is really expensive for an ordinary family, we don't want our son to lag behind other children," she said.

She is a little worried because her son will go to kindergarten very soon, which is expensive.

"The public kindergartens are relatively cheaper, charging about 1,000 yuan to 2,000 yuan each month, however, the places are very limited. We will have to consider some private kindergartens, which will cost 3,000 yuan to 4,000 yuan per month," she said.

"My husband and I can only spend time with our son at the weekends, because of our work, and his grandparents look after him. If we could have more time with him, we would not consider letting him attend the early learning center."

With people enjoying higher incomes nowadays, the majority of post-80 generation parents — the first generation born under the one-child policy — are willing to spend and spend and spend on education, partly to keep up with the Jones and partly to try and give their kid an advantage in the competition to get into a good school.

According to a report released by Answer Marketing Consulting, more than 20 percent of children have lessons at early education centers and the spending on early education and training courses ranges from 1,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan per year; although some parents are prepared to spend as much as 20,000 to 30,000 yuan a year on their child's early education.

"Many post-80 parents identify with idea of the early education. They want their children to receive the best education and they don't care about the money," Zhang Xiaoping, the center director of Baby Care, an early education institution told China Daily,

Zhang said they provide courses for children aged from 0 to 3, covering music, science, reading, art and so on. Each class lasts 45 minutes and the price is 180 yuan per class.

Jin Zhang, the manager of the business development department at Lovely Kids, said post-80 parents paid more attention and invested more in early education compared with post-70 parents.

"I estimate that post-80 parents spend, on average, 30 percent of their monthly household expenditure on early education for their children. Some rich families even spend 20,000 yuan a year " said Jin.

He said the center provides courses for kids between 0 to 3 years, in which the parents and kids play games together, while children over the age of 3 will have lessons on their own.

But while parents seem happy to spend big bucks on their children's early education, there are some education experts who doubt its value and say it's a waste of money.

"I don't think sending children to early education centers is reasonable or wise," said Liu Yan, an expert researching preschool education at Beijing Normal University.

"Parents are a child's first teachers. What parents say and do has a subtle effect on their children. Although some early educational centers can no doubt teach some skills to children, good development depends on learning within the family", she said.

She suggested that parents would do better by learning how to be good parents, such as teaching children in accordance with their aptitude and respecting children's interests.

Jia Rongtao, a family education counselor and chairman of Rongtao education group also advocates parents improving themselves and "setting a good example for their children".

He said that parents should remember that the main purpose of early education centers was to make a profit, and parents needed to demonstrate a sense of responsibility and try to cultivate the right values in their children, such as a willingness to help others.

He said that even if they have only one child, parents should not spoil their child.