How China’s Western-style micro schools seek to free kids from the stresses of traditional education

Five years ago, four kids and five teachers were all the Mao Mao Guo Er kindergarten had.

Based on a mixture of concepts, including the popular Western psychological theories of Erikson and Montessori, and offering project-based learning, the kindergarten between the mountains and rivers of Dali, Yunnan province, has now grown into a combination of kindergarten and primary school, with 60 students and about 10 teachers.

As a place of group study and play mainly for children of immigrants from big cities to the scenic southern city, Mao Mao Guo Er tries to keep kids away from the official education system which is often criticised by domestic parents as rigid and oppressive.

“Yueliang likes it so so so much. She wouldn’t want to ask for leave even when she’s sick,” said one parent, Zheng Xiaohong, referring to her daughter who was among the first four youngsters to join the kindergarten in 2012.

Like Mao Mao Guo Er, micro private schools, with their own curriculum and often starting from a homeschool, are slowly gaining favour with well-off Chinese parents who want a more individualised and Western style of education for their kids.

An estimated 6,000 children around the country have shunned traditional schools and joined in homeschooling curriculums, according to a study issued in April by the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute.

While most of students are being taught by their own parents at home, nearly 10 per cent, or 600, are doing it in micro schools crowd-funded by their parents, the study said.

These families mostly live in cities, particularly big ones, where parents are well-educated and often have teaching experience and a good income, according to the study.

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