Kindergarten’s closure highlights issues with schools
Published: Mar 27, 2014 06:18 PM

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

If you're thinking of traveling to suburban districts or even neighboring cities for the various flower blossom festivals taking place, you'd be wise to put it off until after Qingming, or Tomb-Sweeping, festival, which this year falls on April 5.

This is because in the weekends running up to the festival, families will be traveling to ancestral tombs to burn incense, present flowers and, if needed, renovate the tombs. Many of these tombs are in rural areas and neighboring cities, which means public transport and roads will be far busier than usual, so it's advisable to avoid traveling.

A news item about an unregistered preschool in Shanghai has given rise to debate over the status of teaching institutions that target expats and wealthy Chinese by offering overseas education methods at high fees.

It is reported that the kindergarten, Happy Reggio Emilia School, which was ordered to shut down early this month by educational authorities, reopened at a new location in Xuhui district this Monday.

According to an official from the general office of the Xuhui district education authority, schools have to meet the authorities' "hardware" (i.e. buildings and equipment) and "software" (i.e. staff and curriculum) requirements to get a certificate to open. However, the school in question has never applied for any certificate.

I ran a training school in Zhejiang Province several years ago, so I know the hardware requirements include ensuring at least two exits in case evacuation in an emergency is needed.

Proper vetting of potential teachers is also necessary in order to protect children from abuse - sadly, cases have been reported involving both Chinese and foreign teachers, with expat-focused schools being no exception. Then there was the case of the man from the UK who had been teaching English in Beijing for several years, only for it to be uncovered that he was wanted by police in his home country.

But the unregistered Happy Reggio Emilia School was still in business this week at a place nearby its previous location. There are several points that need to be addressed.

First, Reggio Emilia is a learning method imported from Italy. It focuses on the educational importance of community and free inquiry. Since its development in the 1940s, the Reggio approach has spread into a worldwide network of preschools and kindergartens, with designs for elementary classes in the works, according to It is unclear if the school in question is using the name legitimately, and adhering to the Reggio method. It may just be a form of what in Chinese we call gua yangtou mai gourou - selling dog meat under the pretense of selling mutton.

Second, my foreign friends would claim that this kind of case is all the fault of the educational supervisory authority, and that its oversight is too lax, allowing the kindergarten to remain in business. I'd say that attitude is unfair to the authority. Related officials told the Global Times that they went to the school and sent letters to parents to inform them that the school had been ordered to close due to its lack of registration.

I would say that the parents should bear the main responsibility for sending their children to an institution which authorities have already told them is illegal. Responsible parents must exercise due diligence when choosing a school for their child, and pay attention to such things as food safety, venue safety and other factors. Kindergartens are places where their children will stay for six to eight hours a day, so every detail counts. Companies and organizations can market their products and services in attractive ways, but consumers must be prudent when buying these products and services.

The kindergarten charges 8,900 yuan ($1,432) per month, a huge amount of money that, you would think, would prompt parents to make careful investigations.

And third, my foreign friends wonder why some internationally renowned education brands downgrade their level when they enter the Chinese market. Foreign concepts sell well here, and often unscrupulous people will use them to attract customers, without offering a consummate level of good service. I think the Reggio Emilia school here is such a case.

A practical campaign to clamp down on this kind of school must be conducted immediately. It's not just the obligation of the education department. It should be a joint effort by the entry and exit administration bureau under the public security bureau, the education bureau and the recruiting institutions and, most importantly, the parents themselves.

The author is the managing editor of Global Times Metro Shanghai.