Summer daycare centres provide parents with new childcare options

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With schoolchildren across the country now starting summer breaks, local education departments in various cities have announced that they will set up daycare centres for primary pupils. The news has come as a relief to many parents concerned about childcare arrangements when schools are not open.

Parents often choose to send children to education institutions during school breaks,  primarily to ensure their children are supervised rather than left home alone, as taking children to work is often impractical or not an option.

At present, there are two types of daycare centres that local governments can provide: community-based or school-based, with Shanghai having taken the lead in providing community-based centres since 2014. Currently, the city has 2,925 daycare centres organised by 14 institutions, including the Shanghai Youth League and Shanghai Municipal Education Commission.

School-based centres are currently more popular with local authorities looking to provide childcare options. Compared to community-based centres, they offer a wider range of services. Some argue that school-based centres not only provide children with a safe environment while their parents are at work, but that they also give schools opportunities to offer summer programmes for students.

But pupils staying in school during the summer break means that teachers need to be present to take care of them –– and it also raises questions about service fees and staff recruitment. How much parents should pay for daycare will depend on the kind of services school-based centres offer. If they only provide childcare with no activities, then fees are likely to be low, but offering summer courses will quickly push up costs.

The second question is where to find all the teaching staff. Forcing teachers to work during their vacation time would violate their labor rights. Instead, it is recommended that schools hire teachers from outside or purchase third-party services.

Another question that school-based centres need to consider is the quality of their services, which pertains to the two questions mentioned earlier. What kinds of activities, courses or events should school-based centres offer? How should activities be designed to ensure they offer the sort of benefits to students that parents are willing to pay for? If the quality of their services is lower than outside education providers, parents may not use them.

Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, suggests that school-based daycare centres should not set too many restrictions for students and parents in terms of their choice of summer activities. “The opinions of parents and students should be heard,” said Xiong, “and daycare services should be designed based on the needs of parents and students. It should be totally up to them to take part in any service or activity they are interested in.”