|Ethnic children at a kindergarten in Y Ty Commune, Bat Xat District, Lao Cai Province. A nation-wide effort to provide five-year old children with universal access to pre-school education saw only 18 out of the 63 provinces meet the ambitious target. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha
HA NOI (VNS) — A nationwide effort to provide five-year old children with universal access to pre-school education has seen only 18 out the 63 provinces meet the ambitious target, heard a conference in Ha Noi on Wednesday.
The project, which began in 2011, will enter its final year in 2015. Currently, a hefty majority of localities, 45, are still yet to ensure access to universal pre-school education.
Some provinces are expected to struggle to meet the looming deadline, with as many as 10 provinces, including Bac Kan, Quang Ngai, Dak Nong, Ninh Thuan and Vinh Long, yet to achieve universal access in any of their constituent districts.
Speaking on the difficulties of fulfilling the project's target, locality representatives said the biggest challenge was a shortage of educational infrastructure, such as classrooms.
More than 60 per cent of kindergarten classrooms in the country were said to be permanent structures, while more than 10,600 classrooms were only temporary. Kindergarten teaching materials and equipment was also reported as not meeting regulatory standards for the new pre-school curriculum.
Representatives also complained that current policies were failing to encourage the development of classroom infrastructure in non-marginal provinces.
Deputy Director of the Vinh Long Department of Education and Training Nguyen Thi Quyen Thanh, said that because Vinh Long did not have an ethnic minority population or proximity to a border, island or remote area, it did not qualify to receive preferential State policies.
"We have to do it ourselves. But Vinh Long is an agricultural province so although districts are investing 35 per cent of their budget for education, we still can't meet the demand of standard schools," she said.
Phan Thu Hang, head of the Pre-school Education Division of the Kien Giang Department of Education and Training, echoed these concerns.
When the project started in 2011, more than 60 communes in the province did not have any kindergartens, she said. Now, the amount of communes with no kindergarten has fallen to more than 20. The province has targeted the provision of kindergartens in every commune by 2015.
"We applied different measures, but the children can study for half a day only because of our infrastructure shortage. To have more five-year-old children going to school, we even have to increase the class sizes for smaller children," she said.
Deputy Director of the Soc Trang Department of Education and Training Nguyen Thi Tuyet Ha said Soc Trang Province was suffering a similar shortage of classrooms needed to provide universal access.
Despite the province's authorities approving the department's proposal to improve existing infrastructure, the plan was not implemented due to a lack of funds.
Deputy Minister of Education and Training Nguyen Thi Nghia admitted that fulfilling the target for universal pre-school education was difficult, especially in the current economic climate that was placing added pressure on the State budget.
Nghia said that provincial and municipal departments of education would need to be resourceful in their spending and seek partnerships to meet the targets.
However, Director of the Hau Giang Department of Education and Training Le Hoang Tuoi said that it would still be difficult to provide universal access to pre-school education even with extra funds.
In the northern province Tuyen Quang, education bodies mobilised more than VND60 billion (US$2.8 million), while in Hau Giang, more than VND210 billion ($10 million) had been raised from seeking out banks and enterprises to invest in education, with most of the funds allocated for pre-school education.
Tuoi said that the ministry needed to review the project to improve the allocation of funds to localities, particularly those with limited funds.
A majority of representatives at the conference agreed that it would be difficult to reach the target of fulfilling universal pre-school education by next year.
Deputy Director of the Soc Trang Department of Education and Training Nguyen Thi Tuyet Ha proposed to extend the project's deadline to 2020 for poorer provinces. — VNS