My Experience as a Preschool Teacher in China

First entering the kindergarten where I presently work as an Academic Director, my nerves were reminiscent of those just before an important exam. Even with more than thirty years of teaching experience, I felt totally unprepared for the job of kindergarten teacher. I just knew a couple of nursery rhymes but no games and activities for toddlers. Actually, I knew nothing!

As it happens, the children expect at least two new songs a week as well as a rich repertoire of crafts, games, indoor and outdoor activities. It turns out that teaching preschool children is a job of its own with its specific requirements and expertise. My boss, fortunately, was patient, granting me a short induction period to familiarise myself with this new environment.

Preschool children live in a different world. We, adults, are like elephants in a china shop: unwise to their deep sensitivities. Young children get emotional over events that adults consider commonplace and trivial. Chinese children are like any other children, yet from my experience they come across more expressive and emotional. Some of them cannot tolerate even mild scenes of violence, which are often present in children’s movies. The best scenes for them are those showing beauty, harmony and evoking positive emotions. Surprisingly, they feel happy with movies without conflict. They are quite at home with films portraying peaceful environments, and this is reflected through the expressions on their faces. I see the traces of this in-born mentality in the teachings of Confucius (孔子) and his assertion that the relationship is primarily one of harmony rather than of confrontation or conflict.

The positive aspect of teaching young children is that they are very receptive and teachers can see the result of their work much earlier than with older children or adults, bringing a feeling of fulfilment and confidence to both sides. Soon my initial alarm to approach the world of toddlers and preschoolers subsided, and after two years I would not like to leave this beautiful, dainty and peaceful world of young children.

China is a fast developing country, and education transforms accordingly. In the past, the collective approach to teaching––teaching the class as a whole group––was the dominant teaching method. But recently, the care for the individual child is starting to gain ground and is becoming increasingly sought after. There are no national standards in China for kindergartens; both supervision and funding is the responsibility of the provincial government. In 2001, the Chinese Central Government defined basic guidelines for Early Childhood Education, encompassing Physical Education, Language, Sciences (Maths, Science), Arts and Social Studies. Most parents are impatient to see their child reading and demand that teachers deliver their toddlers phonics (sound-letter correspondences), letters and mathematics. Parents are keen, too, to take their children to a variety of extracurricular courses: ballet, dancing, piano, violin and English lessons.

After teaching a few months, I was promoted to Academic Director of the kindergarten. Our objective was to nurture international children, who will feel at home in any corner of the globe. We needed, therefore, a suitable curriculum, which lays the foundation for future worldly, inquisitive adults and a curriculum that promoted cultural tolerance. Given that the principal of the kindergarten was a Canadian national, he suggested adopting a North American study programme, but I convinced the management of the advantages of the British system.

The British National Curriculum has a very well organised framework for early childhood monitoring and education. Its core concept is the uniqueness of each child and this is exactly in tune with the changing approach of childcare practice in China. The British government’s Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), a framework for preschool-aged children, has a sound structure together with an abundance of teaching aids and guidance. Its programme for mathematics is an advanced modern framework, teaching both methods for solving problems and thinking mathematically. Such an approach is crucially important for tomorrow’s engineers and scientists. But the most important feature of the EYFS framework is the assessment criteria, which provides standards for measuring the child’s development and achievements, something I have found to be lacking in the Chinese education system.

The profession of kindergarten teachers has an array of consequences, both personally and socially. Experiences during early childhood are vitally important for learning and laying the foundations for future emotions and personality in adulthood. According to the May issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, “experiences between birth and age 5 matter significantly to children’s long-term emotional and psychological health, and changing these experiences for the better pays dividends” (Science Daily, May 7, 2010). Simply said, a happy child makes a happy person. Confucius (孔子) underpinned this principle with these words:

To put the world right in order, 古之欲明明德于天下者,
we must first put the nation in order; 先治其国;

To put the nation in order, 欲治其国者,
we must first put the family in order; 先齐其家;

To put the family in order, 欲齐其家者,
we must first cultivate our personal life; 先修其身;

I am optimistic about early childhood education in China. China is a dynamically developing industrial country requiring knowledgeable and creative professionals. The human factor, the ‘we’ in the Confucius (孔子) quote above, is the major driving force of a country’s progress. This fact is also acknowledged by the Chinese Central Government. They have demonstrated their willingness to improve education across the board. Professional academic management of kindergartens and stricter control are the keys to academic success and high professional achievements, advancing China’s development in the future.

By Stefan Penchev