Vietnam's working parents need nurseries, legal or not

By Tue Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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Children have lunch at a private nursery in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

Vietnam's thousands of unregistered and often controversial nurseries have more kids enrolled than its government-approved facilities and it appears the law of supply and demand will keep it that way.
Despite constant reports of abuse and fatal accidents at such pre-schools, including "neighborhood" home-run nurseries, officials said at a Thursday meeting that it would be extremely hard to shut most of them down given that the demand for childcare is so large, especially among low-income parents. 
Nguyen Thi Tuyet Mai, head of the Family and Society Committee at the Vietnam Women’s Association, said a survey over five provinces with a high concentration of industrial and export processing zones found that 72 percent of parent worker send their kids to nurseries because they are nearby and 41 percent because they allow flexible pick-up times. Only 34.4 percent of the parents made their choice based on service quality and 32 percent decided based on teachers’ abilities.
Another survey by the Vietnam Labor Union in ten industrial cities and provinces found that only 19.6 percent of their industrial parks provide childcare services for their workers, leaving more than 60 percent of the workers to send their children to private nursery schools, whether they were registered or not.
Officials also told the meeting -- held by the Ministry of Education and Training -- that the demand for nurseries for babies below three years old is very high among migrant parents working in industrial zones. Public kindergartens only receive children from 3 years old, while licensed private schools have not been able to handle the baby boom at these areas.
Reports from 50 out of the country’s 64 cities and provinces listed 5,590 unlicensed nurseries as of February, not to mention small nurseries like those run at home, hosting around 10 children or less and having no government -- local or centralized --management at all.
The northern port city of Hai Phong reported that 60.5 percent of its private nurseries operate without permits, and the average rate in nearby Bac Ninh Province was reported to be 34 percent.
Nguyen Thi Van Ha, vice chairwoman of Tu Son town in Bac Ninh, said small, home-run nurseries in the province were “countless.”
“We cannot license them, but given the urgent demand of the people, we cannot close them either,” Ha said at the meeting.
She said public and qualified private schools could only serve 24 percent of the demand.
Phan Thanh Hao, deputy director of the education department in Hai Duong Province outside Hanoi, said the unlicensed nurseries are preferred by workers because they receive children very early in the morning and the parents can leave them there until late at night.
Public schools normally open at 7 or 8 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. every day.
A popular private nursery in Ho Chi Minh City turned into a crime scene last December when a video taken by a local resident and sent to police showed two babysitters viciously slap, hit, grab, shake, and pinch the children's noses to make them eat faster.
There children were forced to eat their vomit and one was seen crying as her instructor threatened to hold her head underwater for eating slowly.
The babysitters were sentenced to three years in jail each in January.
A Ho Chi Minh City court last February also pressed murder charges against another babysitter who worked at home for beating a baby to death after failing to stop him from crying.
Ngo Thi Minh, vice chairwoman of the committee in charge of education and children's affairs at Vietnam’s legislature (the National Assembly), said there exists a big gap between demand and what is being provided fully-legally.
“Even in Hanoi, only 29.4 percent of nursery-age children are going to public schools. So what are the mothers of the rest going to do?”
Minh and other officials at the conference said the government should consider support for private schools in the same way it sponsors public schools VND3.4 million (US$161) per each child a year.

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