Family ties are hugely important in China, but thousands of Chinese parents are still sending children as young as three away to boarding school. Why do they do it? This is from the BBC…
Kelly Jiang bounces into her kindergarten classroom, her parents a few steps behind.
“Bye Mum and Dad,” the four-year-old trills, with barely a backwards glance.
As her parents wave farewell, she’s already happily chatting to her teacher and her classmates.
There are no tears, no cuddles and no long goodbyes, which is all the more remarkable, because Kelly won’t see or talk to her mother and father for another four days.
Kelly is one of dozens of three and four-year-olds sent to this boarding kindergarten in Shanghai. From Monday morning to Friday afternoon she and her classmates play, learn, eat and sleep in their brightly coloured classroom and its attached dormitory, only going home at weekends.
They are not alone. There are other boarding kindergartens in Shanghai, Beijing and other major Chinese cities. While no official figures are available, it’s estimated that the number of boarding toddlers runs into thousands nationwide.
In traditional Chinese culture, family is prized about all else – so how can the phenomenon of the boarding toddler be explained?
There are a few reasons, says Xu Jing, executive principal of the Kangqiao kindergarten affiliated to the China Welfare Institute (CWI) in Shanghai.
“Some think it’s good for the children because it helps promote independence. Other parents don’t have time or energy to look after their kids,” says Xu.
“Also, in traditional Chinese culture many grandparents live with the family, and [because of China’s one child policy] sometimes there are four grandparents, two parents and just one child in a home.
“Some parents worry that the grandparents will spoil the child, so they send them here.”
Kelly Jiang’s father, Jamie, is an investment consultant, and her mother doesn’t work. As part of China’s wealthy business elite, they are able to afford the monthly fees of $1,000 (£622).
“We did a lot of research, and discovered that boarding kindergarten benefits outgoing children. It helps them become more independent, and have better life skills,” explains Jiang.
“Our Kelly was a very cheerful baby who liked her own space, so we sent her for a trial. Then we asked her if she wanted to stay in the boarding class, and she said yes.”
Jiang’s eyes fill with tears when asked if he misses his bubbly little girl.
“At first we missed her so much. But we think that as the world is more global, sooner or later she will leave us.
“We let go of her earlier to help her become more independent and be able to survive in society. But we cherish the time we spend with her.”
Boarding kindergartens were established in China in 1949 to look after war orphans of the civil war, as well as the children of new Communist Party leaders who suddenly found themselves too busy for childcare.
These days, as the queues of Audi and Mercedes cars at drop-off time attest, it is a very different crowd who send their children to boarding kindergartens.
Numbers peaked in the 1990s, when sending a young child to such schools was a fashionable status symbol.
But recently the system has become less popular. Some boarding kindergartens, both private and state-run, are closing. Others are switching from boarding classes to day care.
The CWI kindergarten in Shanghai used to be exclusively boarding, but now only three out of 22 classes for young children are residential.
“Chinese parents are now starting to realise that it’s important to spend more time with their kids when they are very young, because they are learning and it’s a very important stage of growth,” says Xu Jing…
As Ofsted start a debate on the merits of schools being able to run nurseries for children from the age of two over here, what do you make of the idea of sending 3 year olds to boarding school? Please let us know in the comments or on twitter…