Compulsory preschooling threatens to abandon under-aged kids

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Without proper preparation, a recently-launched project to make pre-school education compulsory at the age of five may leave younger kids in the lurch.


The VND14.6 trillion (US$748.91 million) project, launched in August, will require all public kindergartens to admit five-year-old children.


The schools are only allowed to admit students under that age when they don't fill their admission quotas.


At the moment, some working Vietnamese parents send their children to school as early as age two.


Public kindergartens here are notoriously crowded and hard to get into. Urban parents often camp outside public kindergarten campuses waiting to sign their kids up for class at the end of every summer. 


Some worry that the problem will only get worse.


Minh Phuong, of Hanoi's Dong Da District, said she couldn't help but send her three-year-old child to a private school for more than VND2 million ($102.59) a month, even though she doesn't know how she will cover the costs.


"My family couldn't rest assure and leave my child's education to chance," Phuong said.


Nguyen Thi Nga, vice director of the Hanoi Department of Education and Training, says that everyone will have to accept that children under five will have to attend private schools and family-run nurseries.


"Although their quality and facilities are yet to be guaranteed," he said.


Parents whose children are under five need to sympathize and support the government's policy because compulsory pre-school education for children at the age of five is "the community's right and obligation," according to Nguyen Thi Ngoc Bich, another vice director of the department.


The same line was echoed by education officials in Ho Chi Minh City and provinces throughout the country.


Tran Thanh Duc, director at the Department of Education and Training in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang, says they already have difficulty maintaining kindergarten teachers and classrooms.

This year, he said, they will have to turn children under five away.


In the meantime, Professor Tran Xuan Nhi, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Study Encouragement Association, said it's late to start making preschool education compulsory now, but "it's a pity we didn't make proper preparations."


In fact, only after the project was launched, did localities start to calculate how many schools and teachers they need to meet the project's goals which aims to have 95 percent of five-year-old children in kindergarten by 2015.


Nhi suggested that localities take account of land and human resources for a future plan to make pre-school education compulsory for three and four year-olds. 


"I'm very concerned that we focus on giving compulsory education for five-year-old children only, and forget about others," Nhi said.


Dang Huynh Mai, vice chairwoman of the Vietnam Association for the Protection of Children's Rights, said the government needs to reconsider the project if it ends up forcing younger kids to "sacrifice for" five-year-old children.  


However, in an interview with Thanh Nien, Nguyen Thi Nghia, Deputy Minister of Education and Training, said it is up to parents to send pre-schoolers to kindergarten.


Local authorities, meanwhile, are responsible for planning their local network of schools and building new ones, she stressed.


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