Burgeoning Pre-school Education in China

easter kindergartenThe aims of kindergarten designs are often instrumental. In this way, even “play” is a means to improve results. – by Ru Jia, Zijian Chen, Ye Kong, Ruochen Gong, Yixin Lv and Linzi Lui

In China, pre-school education is a burgeoning education phenomenon in the last two decades. During this time, not only has it become more popular, but also the approach to pre-school education have changed a great deal. About 20 years ago, pre-school education was a privilege primarily the preserve of wealthy families, and almost all kindergartens were public. At that time, kindergartens were more like child-care centres than educational facilities. However, some policies in 1979, such as the introduction of the one-child policy and ‘Opening Up’, together with the rapid economic development of the time have all contributed to the development of pre-school education.

Parents regularly expect too much for – and of – their children but this has grown  markedly in the last 20 years. As a result, better pre-school education has become important, especially with the competitive reality that early years education in both private and state kindergartens is not free in China. Private kindergartens have taken the place of public ones and are now in the majority. In 2010, there were 138,000 kindergartens with almost 15.5 million young children enrolled.

As a result kindergartens have now been converted into something of a necessary education institution, and children are taught basic knowledge and skills, as well as character training and habit-forming. More interactive activities have been involved in the educational process to help children to build up confidence, courage and capability of team working. The size of class is restricted to around 25 children, rather than previous 40+ children per class. In this case, new forms of spaces are required to accommodate such a development.

Concern about children’s physical and mental growth is a recent development too and designers are clearly taking more elements and factors into consideration, such as colour, lighting and outdoor space, which are deemed to influence children’s behavior and cognitive abilities in some positive ways. This article will look at some of the disparities and the educational ambitions of kindergarten design. In many ways, the aims of the kindergartens designs are instrumental; meaning that they are there to enhance performance. In this way, even “play” is a means to improve results, something that Chinese parents are paying good money to achieve.

Colourfulness, by Zijian Chen

XinZhou kindergarten

XinZhou kindergarten, SIP, Suzhou

XinZhou kindergarten, located in Suzhou Industrial Park, is one of those colourful kindergartens. Here, colours serve some functions that are more than decoration.

The different colours of the buildings mark different parts of kindergarten, which helps legibility for children who may be unable to identify buildings by words. Another paramount function of the colour is to stimulate creative-thinking in young children. If the main colour of the indoor environment is grey, black or white, one can imagine that children will be slightly less enlivened thatn with brighter, playful colours. The colourful space, however, may appeal to children in various ways but designs should avoid redundancy or chaotic colours.

Lighting  by Ruochen Gong

Hami district Centre Kindergarten01

Hami district Centre Kindergarten

Hami Kindergarten

Hami Kindergarten, located in Xinjiang Province has relocated to a new site recently. Compared to the old site, the new Hami kindergarten has better lighting – both artificial and natural.

As I recall, my experience of the narrow and dark corridors in the old building gave rise to a similarly gloomy atmosphere amongst my kindergarten classmates. Sunlight, in the view of some educationalists, is now deemed to be important for children’s physical and mental well-being, but whether this is true or not, from an architectural view point, good lighting means energy efficiency. Intelligent design solutions can substantially reduce the use of electric lights and even the heating load in the winter months.

The new Hami Kindergarten incorporates different methods of lighting, for example, adding a clerestory and roof lights, installing large glazed panels on the façade, and arranging classrooms around the outer perimeter of the building. However, it seems that the designers have omitted to consider some of the negative consequences of lighting design. As the two photos shows, the glass panels on the façade can reflect strong sunlight (which is especially dazzling in Hami) which deleteriously affects the outside environment where children might otherwise play, making the building hard to access. The clerestory and the atrium allow more light in, but the space of atrium is out of scale or disconcertingly large for children. The rails outside the peripheral classrooms may also not be adequate for protection. Conclusion: although lighting is important, it should not be at the cost of other design principles.

Indoor and Outdoor  by Ye Kong

Shanghai Weihua kindergarten

Shanghai Weihua kindergarten

Shanghai Weihua kindergarten is an international kindergarten. The most impressive thing about Weihua is its natural environment, both inside and outside.

Unlike some kindergartens in China, the courtyard of Weihua Kindergarten is full of life: natural life. Large area of grassland and various plants makes the school yard feel close to real nature, encouraging young children to explore new things and provide interesting spaces for learning and playing activities. In addition, the overall arrangement of plants is elaborate. It has a charming diversity of forms and scale, but  not so much that students might hide or get lost, which is essential for children’s safety as well as for teachers’ supervision.

Inside the building, woodware takes up almost every corner. The texture of wood is a reminder of nature and it can also provoke a sense of warmth, calm and comfort. More importantly, the wooden floor makes it possible for children to play on the ground, because its temperature can be moderated. In this case, when they have some indoor activities outside normal classroom time, the desks and chairs can be moved away, and children can roll around, right on the floor.

This kindergarten exemplifies the belief that architecture can be in the interior as decoration and outside as environment at the same time. Indeed, this sees to show that welcoming architecture should not be isolated from the environment, but transitional.

Community byYixin Lv

Hanlin kindergarten

Hanlin kindergarten, SIP, Suzhou

Hanlin kindergarten, located in the Neighborhood Centre of SIP in Suzhou, is a community kindergarten serving nearby residents. Its location is very close to its catchment which means that it can facilitate some relevant activities in the neighborhood as a continuation of the school day.

It is surrounded by several residential complexes, and right behind is a medium-sized supermarket and vegetable market and is therefore quite convenient for parents or grandparents to drop off or pick up their children, and to buy some provisions at the same time.

Away from main road, it is ensures children’s safety, even though the space between the kindergarten and main road is regularly used as small garden. Such a space is essential for parents, grandparents and children to meet, to chat, to play, to dance and to kill time – as children may leave school at 4:00pm. Evidently, the kindergarten is not only the place for children, but also a place for adults, or communities who also get involved in this educational space.

About Disparity and Education Ambition by Ru Jia

Although there is a big leap in kindergarten construction all over China, the quality of it is quite different between city and country, east and west, and megacity and small city. In some developing area, due to the tight budget and surging demands, some old buildings have been converted into kindergartens with a splash of colourful paint and furniture, which look good but actually make it hard to serve the demands of the educational system. Zoucheng Jiajia Kindergarten in ShandongProvince, for example, has been transformed from an old office building but this means that some of the open corridors present occupational hazards for children, and the small outdoor space is difficult to satisfy children’s real needs for outdoor activities. Lighting and insulation are so poor that the teaching spaces are quite uncomfortable.

Zoucheng Jiajia Kindergarten, Shandong Province

Zoucheng Jiajia Kindergarten, Shandong Province

Since 1980s, establishing a pre-school educational network based on community need has been prevalent throughout China. In this way, parents and communities are viewed as the beneficiaries of, as well as the participants in, the kindergarten. Together with the kindergarten authorities, they collaborate to facilitate the development of pre-school education. Therefore, in the future, more private kindergartens will emerge to serve the community as well as reform pre-school education.

It is undoubtedly necessary for planers to consider such a service at the outset, when they plan a new community. In addition, gaps between regions are supposed to be bridged by government and society’s educational plans . Therefore, the pre-school facilities in developing areas deserves more attention in terms of educational resources and educational approaches. From an architectural point of view, more research should be carried out to explore new forms of space to accommodate such reforms. Furthermore, we should try out new design methods to accelerate this process, and regard space as a tool to generate more novel and reasonable educational approaches.