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Getting into kindergarten is becoming more and more difficult in China. Limited access, high tuition, and regional disparity of pre-schooling have caused great social concern. While authorities are working to give children a fair start, there are debates over what is practical.
For Chinese children the educational race starts early.
They start kindergarten at 3 years old -- if they're lucky.
By 2007, half the public kindergartens in China were gone, and most of those remaining became commercial ventures.
One parent said, "Most private kindergartens are expensive, and in the cheap ones, conditions are bad. The teachers are not good, either."
"I had to register really early. They were full in twenty minutes." Said the parent.
In a recent survey of parents, more than ninety percent said pre-schooling should be included as free compulsory education.
But an education expert who's done the math says this isn't practical.
Professor Song Yingquan, China Inst. for Educational Research, said, "We have about eight hundred thousand kindergarten classes nationwide, and we need at least two teachers for each class. That means the country will spend five billion yuan a month on teachers' salary. Further costs will also be huge."
Preschools receive little public funding. In Beijing, it accounts for less than two percent of the city's educational budget.
That means kindergartens have to charge higher fees to keep afloat and guarantee quality.
The seller's market puts pre-schooling out of the reach of many. Professor Song says government resources should go to the most needy.
"I think the government should invest more to give disadvantaged groups a better chance. Society will get a better return on its investment." Professor Song said.
With a rural population of 900 million, that return could be tremendous.
A fair starting point could help save them from being left behind in the educational race.