China’s southern tech hub of Shenzhen, picked by Beijing to become a model socialist city, is drafting the country’s first detailed rules that would guarantee access to kindergarten, offering a peek at the future of preschool education amid a crackdown on private tutoring institutions that has roiled the market.
Under new rules proposed in the draft Regulations on Preschool Education in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone, published in mid-July, all preschoolers would be allowed to enrol in kindergartens in their neighbourhoods, without the need to take prior exams, requiring only health check-ups.
The rules would also require kindergartens to step up supervision of students for security, which would include setting up cameras in main areas such as cafeterias and classrooms. Surveillance videos would need to be stored for at least 90 days, and schools would be banned from sharing them without approval. Only agencies for public security, education administration and market regulation are allowed access to the videos under the regulation.
After passing the first-round review by the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Congress in June, the draft regulation was published earlier this month and remains open to public feedback until the end of July. The city aims to have the regulation approved by the local congress by the end of the year, according to a report on Wednesday from the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily, a newspaper run by the local Communist Party committee.
Once passed, it will be the first local regulation in China dedicated to preschool education, which includes kindergarten. Schooling before the first grade is not covered by China’s laws on compulsory education. While the new rules in Shenzhen would guarantee children a spot in a local kindergarten class, parents would still have to pay for it.
The national government has also been trying to address this gap in education access. The State Council has been reviewing a preschool regulation since April, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education published online this month.
Shenzhen’s push to guarantee early education comes amid a crackdown from Beijing on the previously booming private tutoring industry, which has helped bring early education to children, largely through online classes, as parents look for a way to give their kids an edge in school.
Last week, new rules from Beijing banned such companies from making profits or raising capital through initial public offerings, sending tech stock values plummeting on exchanges in Shanghai, Hong Kong and New York.
Under Shenzhen’s draft regulation, kindergartens will also be prohibited from public listings, and businesses will be barred from taking control of public and non-profit kindergartens through mergers and acquisitions, franchising or other means.
This is in line with a State Council policy from 2018, which bans private kindergartens from seeking public listings, either independently or as part of a portfolio, and for-profit kindergartens from raising funds from listed companies.
The Shenzhen regulation also reiterates that preschool education is important to “social welfare”, stipulating that the government should share costs, investing in preschool education with funding, incentives and other forms of financial support, to provide an “inclusive service”.
The Shenzhen government already funds some private preschools, deemed “inclusive kindergartens”. Tuition fees for this category are capped by local district governments, while non-inclusive preschools are free to set their own prices.
The city’s new regulation also seeks to address issues with its fast-growing child population. The city’s birth rate was the highest among the country’s top municipalities in 2019, at 21.7 per 1,000, according to official data. As a result, preschool admission pressure remains an urgent issue to be addressed, and the government’s present investment in the sector remains relatively small, according to an explanatory document published with the draft regulation.
Shenzhen currently has 1,881 kindergartens, 856 of which are public organisations, according to the document. Among the 560,000 preschoolers in the city, half of them go to public kindergartens and another 34.6 per cent go to government-funded private institutions.