Half the Sky Little Sisters Preschools

About the Project

This project is one of the 2012 WISE Awards finalists.

Half The Sky (HTS) Little Sisters Preschools Program (LSP) recruits experienced teachers to implement a progressive curriculum for children in China’s welfare institutions. The curriculum is a combination of methods drawn from the Italian Reggio Emilia Approach, preschool teacher training in the United States, and the Chinese national education guidelines. The program is designed to prepare children (aged 2½ to 7 years old) to succeed in Chinese community schools and help them attain the positive sense of self, so often missing in institutionalized children.

Teachers support children in exploring and investigating concepts through many avenues and media. Long-term projects are particularly valuable for the children. They provide a way for them to work cooperatively and weave together their experiences from one day to the next in a continuous fabric of meaning that lends coherence and stability to their lives. This is often transformative for children living in institutions, as all have been abandoned and a large percentage have special needs. Historically, children in China’s institutions were mainly girls whereas now, more and more children with special needs start filling the country’s orphanages.

Context and Issue

The project strives to effect dramatic change within China’s child welfare sector. The Chinese government itself acknowledges: “Preschools are still the weakest part of our country’s education. Various problems include lack of teaching resources, inadequate investments, understaffing, underdeveloped management systems and imbalances between urban and rural areas. This situation is ostensibly worse within China’s welfare institutions. The project addresses the issue of pre-primary education from within, bringing resources directly to the institution, providing expertise and training, and engaging local institution leadership and government so that new approaches gain advocacy.

HTS seeks to alter the destiny of children who are at risk of never receiving a pre-primary education, and therefore at risk of being excluded from community primary schools, middle school education, high school education, college, and beyond. The project seeks to transform the educational rights of children who are institutionalized. It is based on the belief that each child has great potential no matter how severe the environment she or he is in. Central to this belief is the establishment of positive relationships between adults and children as the starting point to help children learn to trust the world, respect themselves and others, and believe in themselves.

Solution and Impact

The Little Sisters Preschools Program uniquely combines the recognized pedagogy with Chinese cultural and educational values, and international early childhood education training and best practices. This blended, inclusive approach enables staff to meet the needs of both healthy children as well as children with special needs. Before the project was established, a preschool curriculum of international standards and quality was not available to children living in China’s welfare institutions.

In terms of reach, annually there are approximately 1,300 preschoolers enrolled in 45 Little Sisters Preschools being taught by over 340 HTS-trained teachers across China. The direct beneficiaries are children living in state-run welfare institutions throughout China, as well as the teachers HTS trains to teach and guide them.

Beginning in 2008 through to the present, HTS has disseminated and shared the educational practices of the Little Sisters Preschool Program with institutions throughout China. More recently, the dissemination of the project curricula and methodology is being conducted jointly with government partners through the Rainbow Program which was launched on Children’s Day in 2011.

As of year-end 2013, the organization has provided direct Rainbow Program training (in conjunction with the Chinese government) for over 5,300 caregivers in nearly 400 welfare institutions, directly impacting nearly 27,000 children.

Future Developments

HTS launched its first pilot preschool in June of 2000. The pilots were well received and the children showed such rapid and visible improvements that the programs were replicated across China and now operate at 45 institutions. Over the next five years, it is expected that the project will operate in a model center in every provincial capital of China, adding a minimum of nine additional institutions to the current 45 and directly touching the lives of up to 2,500 preschoolers a year.

Since HTS began its work, it has always been in partnership with the Chinese government. The expansion of the program can only be achieved through continued government and institution partnerships and key milestones in these relationships are crucial to the replication of the program. The organization will continue to work closely with its partners, and through training and support endeavor to reach every one of the nearly 300,000 preschool age children still living in welfare institutions.   

April 26, 2012 (last update 03-14-2022)