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Mon, Jan 24, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Government commits to plan to increase pre-school enrollments

KINDERGARTENSThrought a combination of education vouchers and subsidies to private nursery schools, the government hopes to make pre-school education available to all who want it

By Stephanie Low  /  STAFF REPORTER

Education Minister Kirby Yung (楊朝祥) yesterday said the government is working at creating universal pre-school education, but emphasized that he does not intend to make it compulsory.

To attain this goal, the most urgent need is to incorporate pre-schools into the formal educational system, Yung told a group of private kindergarten managers from around the island.

"It is our hope to achieve a 100-percent enrollment rate," Yung said.

Official statistics show that 520,000 children aged between four and six years old -- about 80 percent of children in this age bracket -- attend kindergartens or nurseries.

However, there are wide local differences. While the enrollment rate in Liangchiang County is already 100 percent, the percentage in some densely populated localities still remains low. For example, the enrollment rate is only 49.2 percent in Taipei County and 35 percent in Taichung County.

Yung said his ministry will work out a timetable with local governments concerned to have a sufficient number of kindergartens set up. He said the ministry will also help subsidize the cost.

Under a preliminary plan, Yung said, kindergartens will be permitted to be set up on the premises of all government-funded schools. The kindergartens will be run by the private sector.

"This can decrease the costs for private kindergartens and reduce the tuition fees," Yung said.

Also, the ministry will subsidize existing private kindergartens to help them upgrade their teaching quality, Yung added.

Of the children attending kindergartens, 70 percent are in private kindergartens. Of those going to nurseries, 55 percent are in private nurseries, statistics show.

Parents sending their children to private kindergartens usually need to spend between NT$70,000 and NT$100,000 per year, which is at least triple the average cost per pupil at public kindergartens. The ministry has announced it will issue education vouchers worth NT$10,000 per year per person for children between five and six years old who are studying in private kindergartens or nurseries, starting September this year.

Yung said the government hopes to offer pre-school education free of charge or at least have the tuition fees reduced.

"Free of charge doesn't necessarily mean compulsory," Yung said. "Furthermore, since some parents may prefer educating their children at home, we doubt the necessity of making pre-school compulsory," he added.

In another effort that is also related to the quality of private kindergartens, the ministry is working on plans to set up a benefit system for kindergarten teachers and to help unlicensed teachers obtain qualifications, Yung said.

Meanwhile, the ministry will encourage local governments to experiment on the so-called "nursery schools," which are for children up to eight years old.

According to the ministry's plan, nursery schools will offer pre-school courses and courses of the first two years of elementary school.

Michael Tseng (曾憲政), commissioner of the Kaohsiung City Government's Bureau of Education who will facilitate the implemention of the experiment, said nursery schools can help children prepare for elementary school life.

"It is a major change for children to go from kindergartens to elementary schools. While the teaching in kindergartens involve a lot of playing, children are taught to obey rules in elementary schools," said Tseng, who was executive secretary of the ad hoc Educational Reform Evaluation Committee set up by the Executive Yuan from 1994 and 1996.

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