A report on the early development of infants and young children under the Rural Education Action Program (REAP) has recently been published. REAP is a program jointly launched by the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Stanford University's Institute for International Studies in 2005.
Currently in China, the attention paid to the nurturing of infants, particularly in rural areas, is far from enough. The resources, both human and financial, are far from adequate. Nonetheless, it has been widely recognized that early-stage development, especially for infants under 3 years, is key to children's future growth. So, this problem needs to be solved urgently.
REAP assessed 1,800 infants aged 6-12 months in rural areas of northwest China's Shaanxi Province and followed their development up to the age of 24-30 months. Of the infants tested, 41 percent aged less than 12 months lagged behind in their cognitive or language development. For those aged 24-30 months, the proportion was 53 percent. In cities and wealthy rural areas, the ratio for those aged 6-18 months was only 15 percent.
Presently, China has some 50 million infants, most of whom live in the countryside, according to Zhang Linxiu, director of REAP in China. "The problem of rural infants' cognitive and language development has great influence on China's human capital in the future," Zhang said.
REAP offers a series of intervention measures, including establishing nurturing centers in both villages and rural immigrants' resettlement communities and providing nurturing guidance to parents at home. But the key to the solution lies primarily in public sector investment and the involvement of society and governments at various levels.
(This is an edited excerpt of an article published in China Newsweek on July 10)