Please return the right to happiness to mainland children

December 07, 2017 10:36
A recent study has found that children who are separated from their parents regularly and for long periods are often more susceptible to bullying. Photo: China Daily

A person’s childhood experiences can often have a tremendous impact on his or her growth and personal development.

Despite the fact that it is very difficult to quantify “happiness”, what is undeniable is that many Chinese people didn’t have a happy childhood, not least because of China’s underdeveloped early childhood education system and its unique social structure.

As the old saying goes: what goes around comes around. People who had adverse childhood experiences are often more likely to bear a grudge against society or become so-called hidden ones after they have grown up.

At present, there are nearly 100 million children in rural China whose parents are migrant workers working in big cities, and these lonely kids, who are often known as “left-behind children”, are usually looked after by their grandparents.

A recent study shows that separation from parents over a long period of time can have negative and far-reaching implications for children.

For example, according to the 2017 White Paper on the Chinese Left-behind Children’s Psychological Condition, almost 10 percent of these children have become so estranged from their own parents that they claimed they wouldn’t feel bad even if their parents died.

On the other hand, the report has also found that children who are separated from their parents regularly are often more susceptible to bullying.

Apart from early childhood separation from parents, the poor pre-school education system in the mainland is another major contributing factor to the widespread unhappiness among children across the nation.

In fact the recent child abuse scandals in mainland kindergartens that have come to light one after another are just the tip of the iceberg.

In early November, a video clip showing a teacher at a kindergarten in Shanghai beating up students aged under two and force-feeding them with mustard sauce went viral on the internet.

Recently, teachers in a private kindergarten in the Chaoyang district in Beijing run by the RYB Education Group were found physically abusing their students, with many students reportedly having needle marks on their bodies and forced to take unknown white pills.

Amid public outrage, the Beijing police promptly launched an investigation into the case and later arrested a teacher for allegedly pricking students who refused to take a nap on time with needles as a means to discipline them.

The beleaguered RYB Education Group is in fact a huge business conglomerate that is currently running some 1,300 private kindergartens in over 300 mainland cities across China.

The RYB Education Group has been so profitable that it went public on the New York Stock Exchange on Sept. 27 this year, making it the first of its kind.

Kindergartens run by the RYB Group often charge a little more than the average 5,000 yuan a month in tuition fees compared with other private kindergartens in Beijing. Unfortunately, higher fees don’t necessarily bring high-quality education and service.

Worse still, it wasn’t the first time RYB kindergartens got involved in child abuse scandals. In April this year, a teacher in another RYB school in Beijing was found kicking students who were sitting on a bench.

In November 2015, a dozen parents in Jinlin province found needle marks on their kids’ bodies, and then reported it to the local police. After an investigation, four teachers working for a local RYB kindergarten were arrested and convicted of child abuse.

Some education experts believe there are multiple factors behind the hostile environment and appalling conditions in mainland kindergartens, namely, low-quality teachers, insufficient law enforcement, lack of proper regulation, lack of corporate social responsibility, unprogressive values among kindergarten operators and low income as well as poor employment benefits for teachers.

However, experts also pointed out that these are all objective factors, and the rampant child abuse in mainland kindergartens has its roots in the fact that most kindergarten teachers simply don’t have a caring heart.

As a matter of fact, how can we expect mainland children to be happy when many of them are facing heartless teachers and separation from their parents, not to mention the notorious spoon-feeding and exam-driven education system?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor