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Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

Preschool, day care integration plan eases


Staff writer

The Democratic of Japan-led government backed off a bit Monday from a push to integrate the operations of day care facilities with kindergartens and instead offered them financial incentives to merge.

The goal of integration was to alleviate both the shortage in day care facilities and their long waiting lists, but the two businesses differ, in that day care centers, which have longer hours, are mainly places for kids to stay, whereas kindergartens are the start of the formal education process.

Amid fierce opposition both from day care and kindergarten operators, the government mitigated its goal of integrating all the kindergartens and day care centers into "kodomo-en" (children's facilities) but decided to boost subsidies for those businesses that agree to integrate.

The plan envisaged a complete conversion to kodomo-en starting in fiscal 2013. Instead, preschoolers will be allowed to enroll in day care facilities if their parents work, kindergartens if aged 3 or older, or kodomo-en.

Government officials believe that boosting subsidies for kodomo-en will provide an incentive for day care centers to merge with kindergartens.

Critics, however, claim the new tack differs little from reality.

The government has been working to integrate day care centers with kindergartens, in part to resolve the problem of waiting lists at day care centers, which operate longer than kindergartens.

But the initial plan to integrate the two functions into kodomo-en over 10 years starting in fiscal 2013 triggered strong opposition, especially from kindergartens who feared it would lead to longer working hours and a decline in quality.

Kindergartens are overseen by the education ministry and are designated under the School Education Law as preschools aimed at nurturing the basis of education, with an emphasis on learning.

Day care centers are overseen by the welfare ministry and the Child Welfare Law.



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