Preschool crisis looms as private kindergartens go bust

By Manh Tung, Thanh Hang   January 14, 2022 | 06:00 pm PT
Prolonged closures because of the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed many private kindergartens to the edge and beyond, triggering a preschool crisis in Hanoi and HCMC.

HCMC announced Wednesday that it will let preschool students back to classes from February on an optional basis, with parents deciding if they want to send their children to school or not.

However, by the time the announcement was made, many kindergartens had already gone bust with the burdens of remaining closed since April too much to bear.

Le Van, owner of a kindergarten with 80 children and more than 20 teachers in Thu Duc City, is working on procedures to dissolve his business, which had begun in early 2020.

Van said he accepted losses in the first year of operation but then the fourth wave that hit Vietnam last April, resulting in stringent social distancing and prolonged closures of schools, broke the business.

For the last eight months, he had to pay VND10 million a month as rent after the landlord offered him a 50-percent reduction.

"We just could not hold out any longer," he said.

A private kindergarten in HCMCs Thu Duc City has remained closed since April 2021 until now. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

A private kindergarten in HCMC's Thu Duc City has remained closed since April 2021 until now. Photo by VnExpress/Manh Tung

Vietnam now has more than 15,000 preschools that take care of 3-5 year old children. Of these, 2,900 are private. Then there are over 193,700 nurseries serving more than five million children aged from three to five.

A recent survey by the Ministry of Education and Training found 95.2 percent of private kindergartens had earned zero revenue for over six months and 81.6 percent could not pay even the minimum wage for teachers during the eight-month suspension period.

Last year, more than 150 private kindergartens and preschool facilities in HCMC applied for dissolution while owners of around 100 other preschools submitted petitions calling for help from the authorities.

'Burned out'

In late 2018, Vu Dang Quang Tung invested VND4 billion ($176,300) to open a kindergarten in Hanoi's Tay Ho District.

After operating for over a year since early 2019, the school had to halt operations under the pandemic impacts. Then, more Covid-19 outbreaks forced it to close several times again.

His business hit rock bottom in 2021 when the kindergarten had to shut down for eight months straight from April.

"We can no longer maintain the school. We are burned out," Tung wrote on a Facebook post on Jan. 10 as he announced the kindergarten's closure.

Tung said he would like to gift the school to any investor that is financially capable and has the intention of running a kindergarten.

During the time that the school remained suspended, Tung had to spend VND200 million ($8,826) each month, including the cost of maintaining facilities and supporting teachers.

Though the landlord had reduced rent for the premises, Tung said "his hands are tied" and that he felt "overwhelmed."

He added that teachers at the school were "broke" and had to do other jobs to earn a living, but "they passionately hope that they can soon get back to on-site classes."

A scene inside the kindergarten owned by Vu Dang Quang Tung in Hanois Tay Ho District in early 2020. Photo by Vu Dang Quang Tung

A scene inside the kindergarten owned by Vu Dang Quang Tung in Hanoi's Tay Ho District in early 2020. Photo by Vu Dang Quang Tung

While it was difficult for authorities to set a specific time for reopening when the pandemic was developing unpredictably, he felt they should come up with certain solutions in the meantime to help operators pay salaries to teachers or cover other costs.

The amount of aid could be decided based on the scale of each school and their annual business report, Tung felt.

He warned that if too many private kindergartens were to stop operations, state-owned schools would be overloaded when kindergartens are allowed to reopen.

The capital city currently has 1,140 preschools, of which 787 are public and the remaining private.

For now, Hanoi has not announced any plan on reopening its kindergartens.

According to the education ministry, between May and December last year, 28,500 kindergartens across the country have had to suspend operations, and 584 private ones have been dissolved.

Tung said: "If there specific policies to help (private) kindergartens overcome this difficult time are not issued, I'm afraid that not many can survive until the government allows them to reopen."

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