Sat, Jul 15, 2017 - Page 8 News List

More childcare facilities needed

By Wang Chao-ching 王兆慶

On Wednesday last week, the legislature finished deliberating the Special Act on the Forward-Looking Infrastructure Development Program (前瞻基礎建設特別條例) and passed it into law. Apart from the construction projects proposed in the original draft, such as railways and “green” energy development, the Democratic Progressive Party proposed an amendment calling for “friendly childcare spaces in response to the falling birth rate.”

At last, a solution is being offered for problems such as parents having to draw lots for spots at public childcare centers and joining long wait lists for public kindergartens, which make it harder to get into a preschool than a university. The government can no longer use “fiscal difficulties” as an excuse for refusing to build public childcare facilities.

Now that the law has been passed, the government should quickly take the following steps:

First, while there are more than 2,000 public kindergartens in the nation, funds from the infrastructure program should be used to increase classes for two-year-olds.

Parents who have taken part in drawing lots for spots at public kindergartens know that they mostly offer classes for children aged four and five. As the system prioritizes admission for older children, those aged two and three are simply consigned to waiting lists.

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) has said he wants all public kindergartens in the city to add a class specifically for two-year-olds. However, it is not enough for the narrow gate to kindergartens to be widened only in the privileged capital.

As a priority, the infrastructure program’s funding for “friendly childcare spaces” should be used for government-run nonprofit kindergartens across the nation to cover the cost of adding space and equipment for classes for two-year-olds, which is the age group for which there is the widest gap between demand and supply.

Second, the program should provide small-scale community public and nonprofit infant daycare centers that could be formed by reorganizing existing public and private infant childcare centers to improve them with regard to scale, quality and work conditions.

The movement advocating more public childcare attaches importance to the ratio between public and private service providers, and calls for a balanced market share between public and privately run childcare. The government should not give free rein to for-profit providers or allow excessive marketization.

Growing public provision means that kindergartens for two to six-year-olds are approaching a ratio of 40 percent public and 60 percent private, but up until now the ratio for children younger than three has been stuck at one to nine. Taiwan’s progress in this respect lags far behind that of other nations.

More than 10 years ago, the EU called on its member states to provide childcare to at least 33 percent of children younger than three. Germany’s childcare provision for the demographic has increased from 13.6 percent 10 years ago to 32.3 percent today.

These countries know that only large-scale provision of public childcare services can save parents from having to struggle between drawing lots, joining waiting lists, quitting their jobs and delaying employment.

In contrast, Taiwan provides childcare services for just 10 percent of children younger than three, which is far behind most advanced nations. As a priority, resources made available by the infrastructure program should be used to relieve this hardship of young families.

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