Unregistered preschools/kindergartens in rural areas in China exist for a reason - children would otherwise receive little care as both parents leave children behind to work in the cities. But the death of a 3 year-old girl at an unregistered kindergarten has raised questions about safety.
The death of a 3-year-old girl in central China has thrust unregistered kindergartens in the country's rural areas into the spotlight.
The news of Little Jiayi has stirred waves since the child was found dead last week in the kindergarten owner's car that was parked on the school's parking lot-turned playground in Enkou Village of Hunan Province's Loudi City.
An initial investigation suggested that lax management of the unregistered Xingji Kindergarten,referred to as a "black kindergarten" by local residents, contributed to the death of the preschooler. However, there are still various theories on her cause of death.
"Everybody knows that there are a large number of safety loopholes in the kindergarten, a four-story building transformed from a civilian house," a local village official who preferred toremain anonymous told Xinhua.
He added that it was nearly certain that an accident would happen at the school eventually. "It was a question of time."
Unregistered kindergartens, most of which are located in China's rural areas, exist for a reason.
Statistics show that only 180,000 out of the total 280,000 children aged between three and five in Shaoyang City in Hunan, where the death of Little Jiayi was reported, attend registered kindergartens.
Only 20 percent of the city's private kindergartens, accounting for 95 percent of the total, are qualified according to the standards issued by Chinese education authorities.
"But if we shut down the unregistered kindergartens, most of which are unqualified ones, the kids in rural areas would have no kindergartens to attend at all," said an education official in Shaoyang, where parental absence is common among the children of migrant workers.
Almost 70 percent of the children in Shaoyang are left behind in villages by their migrant worker parents who have gone to cities like Guangzhou and Changsha to make money.
Grandparents, who are often too old and too frail to go to urban areas, too, look after these children, but they are often unable to provide the children with much more than food and shelter.
Professor Pang Lijuan with Beijing Normal University believes that the large number of illegal kindergartens pose great potential safety hazards to the preschoolers.
"A lot of private kindergartens in rural areas do not have basic qualifications and are seriously understaffed," she said.
But the owners of the black kindergartens have their own arguments.
Li Xiaopeng, the former owner and teacher of an unregistered kindergarten in Lantian County in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, provided free access to education for local children.
"I want the children in the countryside to attend kindergartens, just like their peers in the big cities," Li, who died on his way to buy textbooks for the students, once told his family.
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