For some children life begins at 3

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. But for some Chinese parents with young children, too much play and too little work may be even worse. At least it seems so judging by their reactions to the first official guidelines on education for preschoolers.

While emphasizing the physical, social and emotional development of children aged 3-6, the draft instructions by the Ministry of Education have set forth minimal academic requirements that are causing panic among urban middle-class parents who fear the criteria, if implemented, will shortchange their children's opportunity to learn and end the nation's time-honored tradition of tough education from an early age.

One of the most criticized study objectives given by the guidelines, which were recently posted on the Internet for input from the public, is that children aged 5-6 who are about to enter Primary One, are only required to learn to add or subtract up to 10. Another is related to their language skill, which is prescribed as "an interest in words and symbols that come with certain meaning".

Though their children may already be whiz-kids at math or language by these official standards, many parents are not satisfied. A recent study of more than 1,000 urban Chinese parents shows that prior to their kids entering primary school, 89 percent of them have prepped their children in math and Chinese; 28 percent in a foreign language, while another 20 percent have sent their children to study some Primary One courses in advance.

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