Reports of child abuse at a preschool in Beijing, China, have shocked parents across the country. The reports also caused officials to order a nationwide inspection of early learning centers.
The case in Beijing is one of a number of reports of abuse in China’s growing early education industry.
At last month’s 19th Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party listed preschool education as an important link in its efforts to develop the country’s education system. Officials aim to increase enrollment to 85 percent by 2020. That would make early education a $50-million industry.
But since the Party Congress ended, there have been preschool scandals in two of the country’s major cities – Shanghai and Beijing.
In early November, a video appeared online that showed teachers at a nursery school in Shanghai violently pushing students. The video also appeared to show them forcing children to eat a spicy hot food called wasabi. The school is for children of employees for the online travel company Ctrip.
More recently, Chinese officials detained a woman suspected of abusing children at a Beijing kindergarten. The school is run by RYB Education.
RYB operates about 1,300 day care centers in about 300 cities across China. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in September.
Police in Beijing’s Chaoyang area said Saturday that they had detained a 22-year-old female teacher. The statement was posted on the district police account of the Sina Weibo microblog site. It identified the woman only by her family name, Liu.
RYB Education said it was “extremely shocked and distressed” about the reported abuse. RYB said it had dismissed Liu and is cooperating with investigators.
Parents of students at the RYB Beijing school say that the children were given sleeping medicine. Some say they also found needle marks on their children.
Some say their children reported receiving medical examinations, while naked, by men. One of the men was also reported to be naked at the time.
Police in Beijing said Tuesday night that some of the accusations are untrue.
RYB has created a special team to carry out “self-inspection across all teaching facilities.”
State media reported that officials in Beijing have requested inspectors at every kindergarten. They also have requested additional cameras in classrooms, including some to be linked directly to police stations.
Some observers are hopeful that the attention to the reports from Beijing will lead to change. They say the problem has existed for years.
Lenora Chu is an American writer and reporter. She wrote a book about China’s education system called “Little Soldiers, An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve.” She said the RYB Education case is different from past abuse cases in Chinese schools.
“I think that what is different about this is that it is Beijing," Chu said. "Because it is a private school, because these are middle-class parents with money, I hope that change will begin to happen."
Xue Xinya is head of the sociology and social work department at Xi’An Northwestern University. She said problems have grown in China’s early childhood education since the country eased its economic policies.
Before then, she said, “it was the company in charge, and it was your own people, taking care of your kids; everybody knew each other, and in general things were managed strictly. Under the planned economy, people were simpler, they just wouldn’t dare to abuse anyone.”
After that, state-owned companies stopped providing some social services. There were fewer and fewer schools to care for children under the age of three.
China’s leaders want more private investment to go into preschool education. But observers say some people are concerned by the lack of clear guidelines. No single government agency controls early education policy. Several ministries, including the Ministry of Education, the National Health and Family Planning Commission and Ministry of Civil Affairs, oversee China’s preschool division.
Some have called for creating a Preschool Education Law to make clear the responsibilities that belong to the government. These would include management, teacher training, supervision and assessment.
RYB has faced accusations in the past.
In 2015, four RYB school teachers in the northern province of Jilin were found guilty of abuse, including sticking needles into 17 children.
Two of the teachers were sentenced to two years and six months in prison. The others served for two years and 10 months. Three years is the most permitted for the crime of “maltreatment or neglect by a parent or caretaker.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
And I’m Caty Weaver.
Bill Ide reported this story for VOA News from Beijing. Joyce Huang and Brian Kopczynski contributed to the report. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English, with additional materials from the Associated Press and Reuters. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
preschool - n. a school for very young children
enrollment - n. the number of people going to a school
scandal - n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong
account - n. an arrangement in which a person uses the Internet or e-mail services of a particular company
distressed - adj. suffering from pain or sadness
naked - adj. not wearing any clothes : not covered by clothing
facility - n. something (such as a building or large piece of equipment) that is built for a specific purpose
middle-class - adj. the social class that is between the upper class and the lower class and that includes mainly business and professional people, government officials, and skilled workers
neglect - n. lack of attention or care that someone or something needs
assessment - n. the act of making a judgment about something : the act of assessing something