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Several shocking cases of alleged child abuse indicate China's private childcare industry requires stricter regulation, say experts.
China's State Council called for nationwide inspection of kindergartens on Friday following allegations of child abuse at a pre-school operated by RYB Education, a private, Beijing-based kindergarten franchise that sparked public outrage on Thursday.
Children attending daycare centers and kindergartens in several Chinese cities have reportedly suffered abuse at the hands of their teachers and other staff.
The incidents show that some kindergartens have failed to implement proper security measures and are poorly managed, according to a notice issued by the State Council on Friday.
The State Council's directive comes after two cases of child abuse in the last month made headlines in Beijing and Shanghai.
Daycare is big business
The cases that elicited such outrage from parents reflect serious problems with China's privately-owned kindergartens, Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told the Global Times. "Daycares, pre-schools and kindergartens have become a lucrative industry in China, but some are poorly regulated," said Xiong.
There were 239,800 kindergartens in China in 2016, an increase of 59 percent compared with 2010, when there were only 150,400 kindergartens in the country, according to statistics from the Ministry of Education (MOE).
"Half of all new kindergartens are privately owned," Wang Lei, an official with the Beijing Education Scientific Research Network, told the Oriental Outlook, a magazine affiliated with the Xinhua News Agency.
"Most private kindergartens are franchised outlets of widely-known, branded kindergartens, and the founders and investors of these outlets are not required to demonstrate they possess relevant qualifications," said Xiong.
Founded in 1998, RYB Education, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, has more than 1,300 daycare centers and nearly 500 kindergartens in 300 cities in China, according to its website. The company's share price fell 38 percent on Friday after the controversy became public.
Only 110 kindergartens are directly run by RYB Education, the others are franchised outlets, according to the Oriental Outlook.
According to documents provided to the magazine the franchise license in a smaller city costs 800,000 yuan ($121,220) per year. It didn't report the cost of a franchise in Beijing or Shanghai.
RYB Education raised $102 million in its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in September. Shares of RYB Education fell $10.28 per share to close at $16.45 per share on Friday.
"Many parents tend to choose well-known kindergartens because they believe they can be trusted, and a listed company will pay more attention to the quality of teaching. However, the rapid expansion will certainly distract an institute's attention away from kids," said Xiong.
Following the revelations of child abuse, many netizens complained online about the cost of private childcare. Some spend more than 5,000 yuan a month to have their pre-school children looked after.
"In China, only expensive pre-schools demonstrate good quality," an official with RYB Education surnamed Hu told the Oriental Outlook, which reported that RYB Education has more than 40 kindergartens in Beijing, where childcare costs exceed 5,000 yuan per month.
The Beijing government issued a notice in 2012 stipulating the standard charge for Beijing's State-run kindergartens is only 1,050 yuan per month.
"But it is difficult to get enrolled in a State-run kindergarten if you don't have Beijing hukou (household registration)," said Wang, a mother of a 3-year-old, who attends a private kindergarten.
Wang said she chose one of the most expensive kindergartens in her district for her son because "I was assured of the quality. You can be fugal on anything but your child's education."
Xiong believes the kindergartens are enriching investors instead of paying good salaries that can attract better teachers. Although the teacher ration is higher in private kindergartens than in State-run ones, there are more unqualified teachers in the private schools.
According to MOE's 2015 statistics, only 50 percent of kindergarten teachers are certified professionals and only 22.4 percent have college degrees, reported the China Youth Daily.
A teacher with a Beijing private kindergarten told the Global Times that she only earns 3,500 yuan a month, and "it can hardly support my life in Beijing and I work very hard every day."
"Kindergartens and day-care centers have been recognized as a lucrative industry in China, especially since the country adopted the two-child policy. However, the rising number of children abuse cases indicate the industry needs urgent regulation. There should be a clear regulation requiring them to invest most of their revenue in education itself," Xiong concluded.(news from the global times)