Formal pre-school training set to boom

09:26, August 01, 2011      

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Early-childhood development businesses are becoming a sunrise industry in China as increasing numbers of Chinese parents are considering children's education as the biggest investment of their lives. However, experts say it may not be necessary for every child to attend such classes.

Figures from Answer Market Consulting, a firm that specializes in analyzing the children's market in China, suggested that some 16 percent of children in China aged under 6 are either learning a musical instrument or formally developing some other personal interest.

Some 25 percent of infants aged under 3 were attending training courses in China in 2010. The market demand for early-childhood education will increase 20 percent annually, according to Answer Market Consulting.

Eyeing the booming market and the large population in China, both domestic and international companies have accelerated their expansion plans. According to the census, China had 222 million people aged under 14 in 2010, accounting for 16.6 percent of the total population.

Beijing-based training course provider Babycare and educational service provider Golden Cradle Kindergarten have become well recognized by Chinese parents in less than 10 years.

Attracted by Western-style educational models, many parents also take children to foreign training course providers. Gymboree, which entered the Chinese market in 2003, is a United Stated-based children's training course provider. It operates some 200 training centers across the country, not only in big cities but also in third- and fourth-tier cities.

The US-based infant- and child-oriented gym course provider The Little Gym (TLG) entered the Chinese market in late 2010. It currently has only one training center - in Xuhui district of Shanghai. However, Robert R. Bingham, chief executive officer of TLG, said that the company plans to open 100 training centers in China before 2015.

Although TLG is a little bit late to the market compared with others, Bingham said it is the right time for TLG to try its hand in China and will offer some different and "only-for-fun" courses for children.

"I do not think we are too late. The only important thing is to do the right thing at the right time," said Bingham. "We are not going to offer competitive courses, which make us different from others."

Although businesses are investing heavily in telling people how important early education is, some experts and parents are questioning whether it is necessary for children to attend such classes.

"I never attended such classes when I was a child but I still enjoy a good life now. I doubt whether it is essential to attend such classes," said Li Ying, a white-collar worker in Shanghai.

Li's opinion is shared by other parents. However, most said it would be better for children to attend some courses before going to school.

"Most of my colleagues will select courses for children under school age to develop personal skills. They believe it will help to increase children's competitiveness at school. If my child does not attend those classes, it might be hard for him to compete with classmates," said Liu Di, a doctor from Anhui province. "I cannot tell whether the course is useful."

Xu Ming, an expert from Beijing Academy of Educational Science, has pointed out parents should identify carefully whether the training courses are helpful for children. He said children under 3 may not need to attend them.

"Not all courses are suitable for Chinese children and parents should ensure children enjoy the ones they attend," said Xu. "It is not a necessity for children to attend these classes. Some knowledge can be taught by parents."

Xu said parents will see some short-term effects but they may not really help children in the long run.

"Training courses should help children's development of logical thinking skills rather than simply teach them some common knowledge," added Xu.

Although the training courses have been welcomed by many Chinese parents in recent years, a lack of monitoring systems and industry watch dogs for training service providers have caused many problems and confusion in the market. Some training centers offer year-long courses and require payment in advance. However, the companies may not survive that long. The sudden closure of education centers has angered Chinese parents.

In the face of public criticism, Bingham from TLG said companies should be conservative in terms of their growth in China.

"We will be careful in selecting our partner and we must make the brand a success before we open other training centers," he said. "We will go at the pace that business allows."

Source:China Daily
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