The Quality Rating System of Chinese Preschool Education: Prospects & Challenges

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In China, the Central People's Government (2010) recently promulgated the Compendium far China's Mid- and Long-Term Education Development, which declared that 95% of Chinese children should receive at least one year of preschool education, while 75% of children should receive a three-year preschool education by 2020. Subsequently, The State Council (2010) issued The State Council's Several Suggestions Regarding Developing Preschool Education, which suggested the importance of improving the quality of, while ensuring children's equal access to, preschool education. This ongoing legislative reform of preschool education aims to institutionalize educational equity. Further, both legislations called for the establishment of a system to effectively evaluate the quality of preschool education in China. Therefore, improving the quality of all Chinese kindergartens through an effective quality rating system has become the focus of preschool education reform.

In attempting to carry out these reform measures, Chinese early childhood education (ECE) scholars and policymakers have two main responsibilities. First, they must define what constitutes a quality preschool education in the Chinese sociocultural and policy context. Second, they must develop effective and appropriate tools, methods, and procedures to measure the quality of preschool programs. Both responsibilities have a profound impact on preschools and teachers, as quality rating is likely to be tied to funding formulation, incentives, and bonus pay--once the legislature endorses the system. The performance of and educational decisions made by schools and teachers will, in turn, impact the lives of millions of children. In order to aptly address these "high-stakes" issues, this article will provide: 1) background information on the Chinese preschool quality rating system, 2) a synthesis of literature regarding preschool program quality in China, 3) a discussion of existing challenges to preschool evaluation, and 4) suggestions for future research in carrying out the responsibilities of defining and measuring quality in the Chinese context.

Chinese Preschool Quality Rating System

China has a large population, with 130 million children who are 6 years old and younger. That is approximately one-fifth of the world's total number of children in that age group. Kindergarten is the main formal type of early childhood education serving children ages 3 to 6. Supplemental programs include one-year pre-primary school and other informal alternatives, such as weekend classes, seasonal classes, and play groups. Currently, 41% of these children are receiving preschool education through a formal kindergarten. According to the Ministry of Education (2009), the total number of kindergartens has grown to 138,209, but this figure is far from satisfactory, considering Chinas large population. In light of the new legislative reform, scholars estimate that the number of kindergartens will continue to grow in the next few decades. With the growing number of kindergartens in China, the importance of ensuring program quality is gaining attention.

Since the 1990s, the Chinese Ministry of Education has adopted a quality rating system to measure and monitor the quality of its preschool programs. Preschool education policies, such as the Kindergarten Work Regulations and Procedures (National Education Committee, 1996) and the Kindergarten Management Bylaw (National Education Committee, 1990), played an influential role in the development of a quality rating system at the provincial level. To comply with these educational regulations, each province proposed a set of quality standards to guide, regulate, and manage such aspects of kindergarten as staff qualification, equipment, environment, and curriculum. These standards address: 1) dimensions of quality measures and corresponding performance indicators, which usually include indicators for staff qualification standards, staff responsibilities standards, physical equipment and utility efficiency standards, and efficacy standards; 2) weighing of each dimension in the rating (e. …