China - 'Village’ life
Throughout our visit, our guide Zhang has often mentioned the ‘village’ that we’ll be visiting at the end of the trip. Now that we’re here, we find that the ‘village’ of Yanghshuo has a population of about 500,000, and today we visited its only state kindergarten. No surprise then that it is heavily oversubscribed with an extra five to seven children in each of its 12 classes.
Each education authority sets its own curriculum, so nursery education can differ between one area and the next. Nevertheless, both the west Shanghai kindergarten that we visited and the Yangshuo nursery have a lot of similarities. Both see exercise routines and long afternoon naps as important; their class sizes are roughly similar (30 for three-year-olds) as are staffing levels (two teachers and one helper in each class). While the Shanghai curriculum has more areas of learning, the education covered is similar. In Yangshuo the five areas are: science (including maths), art, language, health and social development.
An important difference between the settings is the opening hours, for while the Shanghai nursery closes at 4.00pm, the Yangshou kindergarten continues until 5.30. This means a long day for the children, as they arrive at 7.50am and spend the first 20 minutes washing before settling down to a buffet breakfast in their classroom. Their last snack is at 5.00 just before pick-up time at half past.
These hours, however, fit better with parents’ working hours and from the teachers’ point of view, it gives them much more direct contact with the parents, rather than having to deal with the grandparents almost all of the time (as was the case in Shanghai). (With both parents working in many young families in China, it regularly falls on the grandparents to bring up the children.)
The Yangshuo kindergarten is regarded as the best in the ‘village’ and it certainly appeared well resourced with a large outdoor area, relaxed staff and lots of very happy children. As the setting is already bursting to the seams, the director is unable to take any younger children, though she supports the idea of early education for younger children and told us that some new-build kindergartens in China are now accepting two-year-olds.
Our next stop of the day was to visit a barefoot doctor’s practice — once part of Government scheme of healthcare provision, particularly in rural areas but now run as a private practice.
On our way there, we saw even more stunning Guilin countryside and stopped by a river to see a popular way for tourists to relax - a 'gondola' ride! The boats are about five large bamboo 'trunks' lashed together, with a couple of seats in the middle and topped off with an umbrella.
The barefoot doctor practises Chinese medicine but is one of a rapidly diminishing number. Such doctors remain popular with the older generations but the young favour western medicine and never seek her advice. The big question is what will be the future of primary healthcare in China as it currently has no system of GPs. We bulk-bought liquid tiger balm - a Chinese oil or cream to tackle everything from moquito bites to aching joints and headaches.
This was the last visit that we’ll make as a group, for tomorrow we leave early for Guilin, where Anna and David will be flying on to Hong Kong while the rest of us will return to Shanghai. And none of us want to leave China just yet!