Does a Toddler Need a Tutor?

The China Daily had an interesting article yesterday about a new set of early educational guidelines that has been released by the Ministry of Education. The goal is to help parents and educators have a more realistic picture of what a 3-year old should be able to learn.

They are being issued in response to a growing trend here of  parents trying to teach more to younger children, in the hopes of their child getting a head start.

The new guidelines are also designed to clarify to some parents what children at different ages should be able to do.


“Many people don’t understand children’s development, and believe that feeding children knowledge as early as possible is a good way to educate,” said Liu Yan, a professor on early childhood education at Beijing Normal University.


It is common for kindergarten kids across the country to take advanced lessons, such as primary school courses, said Liu, also a member of China National Society of Early Childhood Education.


“The guidelines give teachers and parents a reasonable guide to children’s development,” Liu said.


But she was quick to add that the chances of the guidelines easing the study burden on kindergarten children is slim unless there are changes by primary schools.


The education pressure on the more than 100 million children aged 6 and under across China has many parents feeling anxious.


Che Aiping, 35, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, said she feels uneasy about her son’s entry into primary school, despite the child taking English, piano and chess classes and being exceptional among children at his age.


“I’m glad the authority is taking measures to cope with young children’s educational problems, but I’m still caught up with my son’s education,” she said.


“I want to give my son a happy childhood, but I don’t want him to lose a bright future and blame me when he grows up,” she said. “Now, most families have one child, which puts a greater burden on the kid’s education.”


Some schools now require children to pass intelligence and physical examinations. Some children even have a resume before starting school, a fact that Che said has made her even more anxious.


Mao Jing, a kindergarten teacher from Nanxi Kindergarten in Shanghai, a national model kindergarten, said some children in her class were able to count from one to 100 in Chinese and in English.


Mao’s class has 25 children aged from 3 to 4. She said only one or two children in the class would not have taken math classes before entering kindergarten.

I ran into this a few weeks ago in the lobby of my apartment building. I stopped to chat with a young mother who was taking her son out walk in his stroller, and after going through the usual chit-chat, our conversation went something like this:

She: Can you please help me find an English tutor?

Me:  Who for?

She: (pointing to the child in the stroller) My son.

Me: How old is he?

She: One and a half.

Me: He’s way to young to learn from a tutor.

She (looking disappointed): But how can I help him get a jump on learning English if he doesn’t have a tutor?

Me: Have him listen to English stories and children’s English songs.

She looked at me funny. In the Chinese educational frame of reference stories and songs are not associated with learning. Only teaching and studying are.

I decided to take a more roundabout approach.

Me: Is he learning Chinese?

She: Of course.

Me: How is he doing that? Have you hired someone to teach him?

She: No. He just listens.

Me: Exactly. At one and a half, not only is that the only way he can learn a language, it is the most effective.

It’s disheartening to see the extreme pressure of the educational system here starting to trickle down to toddlers.

image source: China Daily