Educators in Shanghai have called for new measures to increase the number of qualified kindergarten teachers amid the chronic shortage and increasing demand arising from China's new family planning policy that allows married couples to have two children.
For years, Shanghai has been grappling with its inadequate supply of kindergarten teachers because of its population expansion each year.
Yu Weijue, a human resources official at Minhang District's Education Bureau, said the district had been opening kindergartens every year.
"We plan to recruit about 300 to 400 new kindergarten teachers each year, but could only get half of them eventually," she said.
In Jiading District, there is demand for 281 kindergarten teachers this year, but there are only 70 to 80 qualified applicants.
Yu said that the East China Normal University and the Shanghai Normal University were among the major universities in Shanghai which produced teachers.
"They only have 200 to 300 graduates majoring in preschool education every year, while the city needs about 3,000."
Some of these graduates would return to their hometowns, leaving even fewer teachers in Shanghai. Even before they graduate, these university students would be snapped up by local kindergartens.
Each year, more than 200 kindergartens would compete for some 170 graduates from the Shanghai Normal University.
When Shanghai's education authorities seek to recruit kindergarten teachers outside of the city, they found there were few schools that produce graduates with majors in preschool education. Like in Shanghai, these graduates were also highly in demand. Indeed, the lack of kindergarten teachers is widespread in China.
"We had recruited teachers from out of town, but some left because the salaries at kindergartens were not high while the living costs were," Yu said.
The lack of teachers at many kindergartens have led to crowded classes.
The Ministry of Education stipulates that the number of students for each class of three-year-old children should not exceed 25, but many kindergartens have more than 30 children per class.
Local parent Chen Yan said there were 36 children in her daughter's class.
Educators said each kindergarten class needed two teachers and a childcare worker to be with the children for the entire duration of the class.
They could not be shared with other classes like in primary or middle schools. As some kindergartens are unable to open more classes, they have to increase the number of children per class instead.
To be sure, China's new family planning policy will worsen the supply shortage of kindergarten teachers.
Shanghai's health and family planning commission estimated that the yearly number of newborns would increase by 40,000 to 50,000 after the new policy took effect last year — resulting in total births of about 260,000 each year.
In addition, most kindergarten teachers are women. So when they have their second child, they will take maternity leave, and some may even quit to be homemakers.
Local parent Chen Yan said two teachers of her daughter's class had resigned to have children in the past year.
Yu Weijue, a human resources official, suggested that education authorities should consider expanding the number of preschool education majors at universities, or allow more universities to offer preschool education courses to increase the supply of teachers.
She said the district would work with a private college which plans to set up a preschool education department. The district would offer internships to the college's students and hire its qualified graduates.
The Shanghai Educational Talent Exchange and Service Center said it planned to work with the Shanghai Education Commission to launch a mechanism to warn of where teachers were in short supply.