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Toddler forgotten in school toilet stirs debate over early education

THE recent case of a three-year-old boy being “forgotten” and left in a toilet for more than an hour at a Shanghai branch of Disney English has sparked a storm on social media, including WeChat’s moments.

Most of the messages disapproved of the parents sending a child so young to an early education center.

“I don’t know what would be learnt by the baby,” said a message from “Minami” that won the largest number of likes.

“Now there are many early education centers out there without qualifications.”

And another netizen ,“Qier,” said: “Before learning English, kids should learn to take care of themselves first.”

But some said three was not too young to start learning English and the center should be held responsible for its mistake.

And the issue sparked a broader and deeper debate, especially among parents of toddlers, about whether young children need early education and, if so, when?

“Definitely earlier is better — and it’s a golden time to shape kids before the age of three,” posted Cindy Shen, who says she is an early education center deputy director and the mother of an eight-year-old boy.

“My kid received early education when he was two months old.”

But a psychologist at the Huada Institute of Applied Psychology, Chen Lu, disagrees.

“The age of three is the best time for kids to go to kindergarten,” Chen said.

“If it’s possible, do not send kids to early education centers before they are two-and-half-years old.

“A two-or-more-year-old baby is still in the period of emotional need and safety building.

“Parents should show their love through intimate ways like hugging them and kissing them frequently. Actually, the language and communication skills taught in early education centers can be learnt by kids from family members in daily life.”

Chen He, an early education industry insider agreed:

“‘Repeat’ is the key word for early education which relies more on family. What we do most in early education classes is to enlighten parents about how to teach their children.”

Senior family education consultant Chen Lu continued to say that playing was more important for learning at such an early age.

“Early education in classes deprive them from play and takes up their play time, which should be opposed.

“Rather than for the needs of the kids, sending them to day-care centers is more about spare time for the parents.”

A survey released by the Shanghai Women’s Federation late last year showed about 80 percent of children aged three and under are cared for by their grandparents during the day.

It estimated about 100,000 children aged two to three needed day care, but only 20 percent received it.

Shanghai’s early education industry is booming because both parents in many families work. But there are concerns about the professionalism and qualifications of some centers.

“The drawing teacher even didn’t know how to teach,” said a Mrs Li, a retired schoolmaster, complaining of her experience taking her two-year-old granddaughter to a drawing class at an early education center

Rebecca Zhu, a 32-year-old white-collar worker said that after she visited several well-known early education centers, she decided not to send her two-year-old daughter to any.

“Too many people like parents and visitors randomly go in and out (of the center) and I’m afraid my child may get some possible bacterial infection like foot-and-mouth disease,” she said. “If that happened, it would be big trouble. So I prefer her staying at home with her grandparents.”

Psychological consultant Lily Liu believes early education centers are good. She began sending her daughter, Beibei, to early education last October.

“Beibei was mainly taken care of by her grandparents after she was born, and she was introverted,” Liu said. “She liked to play alone before, but now she has made big progress and she has no problem communicating with others.”

Some parents send their children to classes at an early age to avoid being left behind at the starting line when they begin formal education.

But Chen disagrees with this approach.

“Learning is like a marathon run,” she said. “Losing at the starting line is not horrible — it will be worse if your kids cannot run to the end. It’s not proper for a three or four year old child to receive school lessons.

“If you do so, your kids will lose the freshness of learning and interest in conquering difficulties later in school. They probably will not study hard. If parents do want their kids to learn something, choose some skills or interests for them.

“Respect your kids’ self-esteem and choose what they want under your appropriate guidance.

“No other organization can fill the family’s role, because parents are the ones who know their children best.”

The good news is that the government is building at least 20 community day-care centers for children aged two to three.

“At least 20 preschools will be open and put into use by the end of this year. Three of which may welcome kids in June,” said project director and director of the family and children’s department of the Shanghai Women’s Federation Gu Xiujuan.

“These centers will provide reliable services at a reasonable price.”

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