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Toddlers face early lesson in harsh realities of life

By He Na (China Daily)

10:51, May 09, 2012

Momo waited outside the classroom for her music class to begin at the Beijing Century Center. It was difficult to discern how she felt because her face was expressionless. Several other students were also waiting. All wore the same expression, but there was almost no communication between them.

"Hello, hello, how are you doing today, my dear?" asked the teacher, Vivica Wu, as she enthusiastically greeted her charges. Only two of the students raised their heads a little, while the others appeared not to have noticed the teacher at all.

Perhaps feeling that their children's behavior was a little impolite, most of the parents in attendance smiled at Wu.

However, the teacher wasn't in the least upset or surprised at the indifference shown by her students. Wu does not expect too much from her students, because most of them can't speak and some can't even stand on their own.

What do you expect to find in a student's bag? Books, homework notes, pens perhaps. But Wu's students carry none of the above. Instead they have nursing bottles, milk powder, water, cookies, snacks, handkerchiefs and diapers. They are China's youngest students, all of them younger than 3 years old.

Momo can be classified as an "old student" at the preschool institute. She's been "studying" for more than six months, even though she's only 11 months old and needs to be held by her mother.

The class began as scheduled. There were seven students in Momo's class. The oldest was 15 months, the youngest only 10 months. The parents held their children and sat in a semicircle in front of the teacher, listening intently. But most of the kids were not in the mood for classes and some began to show signs of impatience.

One boy, called Lele, wanted to play on the slide. His mother tried to persuade him to pay attention to the teacher, but failed and so Lele spent the entire lesson on the slide.

Wu encouraged the children to beat a drum, but Momo appeared to be more interested in the cartoons that adorned the instrument. Then the teacher asked the parents to hold their children and dance with her in time with the music. Each parent held their child awkwardly and followed the teacher's moves.

"Although the class only lasted 45 minutes, it felt more like two hours. Not only did I have to pay attention to the teacher, who spoke in English, but I also had to hold Momo and so I'm really exhausted," said Zhang Yushu, Momo's mother.

Momo attends this preschool music class twice a week and also takes part in an entertainment class. Each lasts about 45 minutes, and costs 280 yuan ($44.50). Zhang paid for 96 classes in a lump sum and so received a discount, but the course still cost more than 17,000 yuan. "I really didn't want to enroll her, because she's far too young. But many children in our community attend these preschool institutes and I don't want her to be left behind," said Zhang.

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