China’s future at heart

Beginning of next week a group of IKEA co-workers from Spain will go an IWitness trip to visit UNICEF projects in China, that have been funded by the Soft Toys for Education campaign.

Chen Xuefeng, Education Specialist at UNICEF in China will introduce you to the local situation and describe the challenges and positive spirit of her work. Follow the blog closely in the coming week and read about what the IKEA co-workers from Spain experience and learn during their journey.

UNICEF China - Chen Xuefeng
Chen Xuefeng of UNICEF China has led efforts to open up new possibilities for early childhood development in China. ©UNICEF/China/2012/Chen Xuefeng

China’s future at heart

It has been 20 years now since I have been involved in the promotion of early childhood development (ECD) in China. In the early 1990s, a lot of kindergartens were disbanded as a result of public funding cuts. I remember in 1999, the kindergarten admission rate for China was only 33%, a historic low point.

Personally I have a strong sense of responsibility for these children. ECD can improve a child’s life prospects tremendously. Whenever I see a happy, young pre-school aged child being made to study as if in primary school, in a strictly regimented classroom, I feel so sad.

UNICEF China - boys in pre-school
A group of boys happily playing with wooden blocks provided by UNICEF. Pre-schools in China often fail to give young children time to learn through play.. ©UNICEF/China/2012/Chen Xuefeng

The happiest day of my career was in 2010. Following years of UNICEF’s pilot projects – building up evidence for better ECD services – China’s State Council issued a policy “opinion” that re-defined preschool education as a public service, to become the responsibility of the State.

UNICEF China - boy from primary school waving goodbye to his little sister
A boy waves goodbye to his little sister. He recently graduated from the same kindergarten and entered primary school. ©UNICEF/China/2012/Chen Xuefeng

This was especially important breakthrough for children from the poorest rural families, the most disadvantaged of all. ECD is almost non-existent in rural China. There are still 55.1 million rural children left behind by parents who migrate for employment. Most of these children are cared for by their grandparents or neighbors. They can usually only see their parents once a year during the Spring Festival. A large number of these children are sent to un-licensed kindergartens that are not even safe.

UNICEF China - Boy playing with wooden building blocks
A boy is absorbed in building a wooden house. His kindergarten just received high quality learning materials from UNICEF. ©UNICEF/China/2012/Chen Xuefeng

I am very proud of UNICEF’s work on ECD in China. After we helped push forward a favorable policy, we are now extremely busy on its implementation. We are helping improve kindergarten teacher’s training, creating evaluation standards and always promoting the correct understanding of early childhood development.

I have china’s future at heart when I go to work every day. I hope our friends from the IKEA Foundation will be as inspired and motivated as I am.

By Chen Xuefeng,
Education Specialist,


    Juli Riegler