Numerous challenges for universal pre-schooling

June 28, 2024 - 09:04
In densely populated areas, due to the lack of schools and classes, children under five have to give up their places to children in the universal education programme.
Children during a class learning about plants in Cây Dương Kindergarten in Hậu Giang Province. — Photo

HÀ NỘI — The role of pre-school education in the national education system is affirmed in the Education Law.

However, this educational level still has many 'gaps' with about 40.9 per cent of children aged three to four, mainly in remote areas, ethnic minority regions and mountainous areas, not attending school.

In densely populated areas, due to the lack of schools and classes, children under five have to give up their places to children in the universal education programme.

Additionally, infrastructure, the number and quality of the teaching and support staff are also significant issues.

The shortage of pre-school teachers has been a problem for the education sector in many provinces and cities for many years.

In Tiền Giang Province, there are 170 public pre-schools and about 1,500 private kindergartens that require more than 3,380 teachers.

However, currently, the province has nearly 2,400 teachers, so a shortfall of nearly 1,000 teachers according to the regulations.

Due to the shortage of teachers, each person has to work two to three times harder and many places cannot appoint managerial staff as it would worsen the shortage of teachers. Each class has only one teacher in charge, so when on maternity leave, the school administration has to step in to take classes.

Although Tiền Giang Province organises many recruitment pushes every year, pre-school teachers are still lacking.

This problem has many causes, including the lack of sources for recruitment, the remote locations of schools, difficulties in commuting, degraded infrastructure, insufficient classrooms and lack of staff housing.

Many graduates are reluctant to work in challenging conditions, leading to an imbalance in recruitment sources.

According to the statistics, the province has several rural communes with difficult commutes, and for many years, they have not been able to recruit pre-school teachers.

The situation is similar in Kiên Giang Province.

For the 2023-24 school year, the province needs to add 1,578 staff positions but still has 1,198 unfilled positions. Among the 1,578 staff positions needed, 482 are for pre-school education.

The shortage of teachers lead to inappropriate teacher per class ratios, not ensuring compliance with regulations. The pre-school teacher ratio should be 2.2 teachers per class, but the current rate in the province is only 1.62 teachers per class.

For example, a kindergarten in Mong Thọ A Commune of Châu Thành District is lacking two teachers.

Nguyễn Thị Nhớ Bình, the school's principal, told “For many years, some teachers have had to manage classes with more children than regulations allowed, but the school cannot split classes due to a lack of staff.

“Some classes have up to 47 children, making it very difficult for two teachers to care for them.”

Infrastructure lagging behind

Statistics from the Ministry of Education and Training show that more than 40 per cent of children aged three to four have not accessed pre-school education.

In Kiên Giang Province, the rapid urbanisation in some localities has led to a fast population increase, but investment in infrastructure has not kept pace, affecting education quality.

According to Huỳnh Văn Hóa, deputy director of the provincial Department of Education and Training, the province faces several issues such as unsuitable planning for the pre-school and general education network in some localities.

There is still a shortage of schools and classes in urban and industrial areas and land for school construction, especially in towns and cities, is insufficient.

The continuous overload of students in kindergartens and pre-schools, along with a long-standing shortage of staff, has not been resolved, so many bring in contract teachers but only ensure a rate of one teacher per class for two sessions per day.

Bình Dương Province, one of the localities with rapid urbanisation, faces the challenge of building a pre-school system to meet the needs of children of industrial park workers.

According to the 2023-24 school year report by the provincial Department of Education and Training, the province has over 1,000 pre-school institutions in industrial zones with over 13,600 managers, teachers and staff of which there are more than 7,000 teachers.

The schools were generally meeting the needs of parents until, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, many non-public educational institutions had to close because they had no income to pay teachers' salaries and rent.

Barriers from parents' awareness

In addition to difficulties regarding infrastructure and teachers, the universalisation of pre-school education still faces many issues due to the incorrect perception of many parents, especially in remote, rural areas, where they believe that pre-school is not important.

They think that children can start primary school at age six without any pre-school education.

Đào Thị Hoa, a 39-year-old farmer in Chư Păh District of Gia Lai Province in Tây Nguyên (Central Highlands) region, does not send her four-year-old son to kindergarten, believing she can take care of and teach him at home.

Hoa said she had previously sent her child to a nursery, but he was shy and often cried, making going to school difficult.

"At home, parents can teach their children to read and count. They will still learn from the beginning in grade one. We also have more time to do household chores and save on school costs," Hoa said.

Even in HCM City, the largest economic centre of the country, although it basically achieves universal pre-school education for all children aged three to five, ensuring the rate of children attending classes at this age is still challenging, especially in suburban areas, due to parents' reluctance to send their children to school.

Nguyễn Thị Thùy Dung, a freelance businesswoman in District 12, is hesitant and worried about sending her young child to school. "I hire a babysitter for my child. In the evening, I spend time teaching him a few simple things. Children attending school often get sick, missing classes, which is worrisome."

In a remote area in HCM City, Huỳnh Thúy Ngân, vice principal of Thạnh An Preschool of Cần Giờ District, also shares the difficulties in universalising preschool education.

Ngân said that in recent years, thanks to the attention of authorities and unions, the school's facilities have been significantly improved. However, the critical issue of getting children into school remains.

The universalisation of preschool education for three- to four-year-olds faces many challenges due to the difficult living conditions of the people, whose economy depends on fishing and salt production.

As a result, children do not have the means to attend school despite policies supporting island commune students, such as waiving tuition fees and additional support of VNĐ160,000 (US$7) per month for lunch.

"Many parent do not want to send their children to school because most have someone to take care of them and the school is far from home,” Ngân said.

“Moreover, a few parents hold outdated views, thinking that children only play and do not learn anything at school at the ages of three to four, so they wait until five years old to send them to school to prepare for grade one.

“The school and local authorities constantly campaign in various ways, but the rate of three- to four-year-olds attending school is still low," she said. — VNS