AS the president of Red-Yellow-Blue Education Technology Development Co Ltd, Shi Yanlai and her colleagues have taken care of over one million children from newborn to six years old.
But that doesn’t mean motherhood comes any easier to Shi.
Although she holds a master’s degree in educational psychology and studied childhood education as a career, Shi says she does not understand housework very well and feels sorry that she spent so little time with her nine-year-old son, Dongdong.
“He does not think that I am doing a very good job,” says Shi. Usually the busy mother gets home after 8pm, and can only stay with her son for a short time before he goes to bed.
Shi gave birth to Dongdong in 1998. As a young mother, she was eager to learn the proper way to raise her own baby but found no information was available in bookstores. “It was totally blank in terms of education for kids aged under three,” she says.
Before pregnancy she worked in Fundazzle, an indoor playground for children. In talking with customers, she found many young parents, most of them urbanite middle class, had no time to care for newly born babies and little idea about how to help them learn.
She decided that there was a market opportunity for business on guiding parents like her friends and herself on early childhood education. The Chinese have long relied on their own parents or babysitters to take care of children until they reach three years old. The rising younger urban generation, however, live in different cities from their parents. Well educated, most of them want to bring up their children in a more scientific way from the very beginning.
The market is also enhanced by the family structure. Under the national planning policy, each family is only allowed one child, yet some parents feel a need to have their offspring in an environment with friends and companions.
Together with a team of her own friends, she started China’s first parent-baby education centre in 1998, six months after the birth of Dongdong.
In Shi’s parent-baby centre, parents bring children to class to learn a range of skills, from dancing to language to doing simple housework. Driven by the huge demand and as the first in the market, Shi’s business grew rapidly. By the end of 2006, there were already 150 parent-baby centres and six kindergartens in China, with plans to expand the number to 200 this year. She even plans to open kindergartens abroad in the near future.
The motto of her company is to make every child joyful and successful. And that is also the way she educated her son. She suggests that it is important to find the child’s interest, rather than set a good university as a life goal for kids. “Usually it is the parent, not the child, who is interested in a good school,” she says.