China vows more checks on teachers after kindergarten abuse scandal

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Thursday pledged stiffer oversight of preschool teachers, including closer checks on their qualifications, following an outcry over allegations of child abuse at a private kindergarten in Beijing.

The case has become a lighting rod for anger at a lack of trained teachers, low wages and poor oversight in China’s massive and fast-growing private pre-school sector.

Claims that teachers at a school in the capital run by New York-listed RYB Education had abused children sparked an outpouring of anger online last week.

On Tuesday, police in Beijing dismissed as unfounded some of the claims, such as one that children were given tablets or another that doctors had undressed them for medical checkups.

The education ministry will do more to check the qualifications of new entrants to teaching and will adopt tougher oversight measures, deputy minister Tian Xuejun said, in reply to a question from Reuters about the scandal.

Most teachers are cautious and conscientious workers who provide a happy environment for children, he said, adding, “But there have also been a few individual incidents like this that we do not wish to see.”

Tian attributed such events to Chinese parents’ unmet demand for pre-school education of high quality.

“We believe one side of incidents like this at kindergartens reflects a contradiction between the masses’ rigid desire for pre-schools and the inadequate and unbalanced development of education,” he said.

Tian’s view echoed President Xi Jinping’s declaration, at a top meeting of the ruling Communist Party in October, that the core issue facing Chinese society is unequal and imbalanced development that fails to meet people’s desire for a nice life.

RYB appears to have weathered the storm, seeing its shares recover some of their initial losses after the scandal broke, thanks in part to active and effective crisis management by the company’s founder, experts said.

Teachers and academics have said that stamping out abuse remains a challenge in China, especially at franchised, private-sector schools where competition for entry is fierce and norms for teachers are less stringent.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez