Creative opens 'zero' fee kindergarten

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2007, 12:00am

Breakthrough Tsuen Wan school lowers tuition costs to HK$10,000 per year which will be covered by voucher scheme

The city's first kindergarten to offer 'zero' tuition fees will open its doors to children in Tsuen Wan this September in response to the government's Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme.

The newly renovated Creative Kindergarten and Day Nursery (Wonderland Villas), catering for 200 children, will lower its fees from HK$1,800 a month two years ago to HK$10,000 for the year, funded solely by the new fee subsidy granted to parents from September.

The scheme, open to children aged three to six attending preschools that charge less than HK$24,000 a year for half-day classes or HK$48,000 a year for the whole day, has provoked fresh competition among local schools, with many profit-making kindergartens lowering their fees to qualify for the scheme and attract more students.

Headmistress and supervisor with the Creative Nursery and Kindergarten Organisation Angela Luk Chiu Kwan-hung said a reduction in rent had enabled it to make such an offer.

'We had not planned on opening the kindergarten this year, but due to popular demand and the start of the voucher scheme we thought it would be a great opportunity.

'The developers were kind enough to lower our rent so now we can provide free tuition with comprehensive teaching materials in a good learning environment for the benefit of students.'

However, fees at the other 10 Creative kindergartens, which charge between HK$19,000 and HK$26,000 a year, will remain unchanged or trimmed to within the HK$24,000 limit.

Mrs Luk said the organisation would apply for non-profit status within the three-year grace period, at the end of which kindergartens would have to have non-profit status for their pupils to be eligible for the vouchers.

Sharon Wat King-yee, a spokeswoman for the Private Independent Early Education Association, said many schools were also jostling for position by lowering fees.

'Many schools are lowering fees to fit the HK$24,000 limit, others may be lowering fees to compete with non-profit-making kindergartens,' Ms Wat said.

'Some schools are still considering whether to opt for the scheme and want to attract as many students as possible before they are forced to make the decision. We expect this year to be very competitive.'

Meanwhile, several non-profit-making schools have applied to raise their fees by as much as 25 per cent to offset the loss of the Kindergarten and Child Care Subsidy Scheme (KCSS) - worth about HK$2,468 per pupil per year for non-profit-making kindergartens - which preceded the voucher scheme.

Timothy Ha Wing-hong, education secretary of Sheng Kung Hui, the Anglican school-sponsoring body in charge of 52 non-profit-making kindergartens, said fees would go up by between 3 and 17 per cent.

'The KCSS has now been withdrawn so it will be difficult for non-profit-making schools not to raise fees. Some of our teachers have also been given a raise commensurate with their experience,' Mr Ha said.

A spokesman for the Salvation Army said it had raised the fees at one of its kindergartens in Ping Tin by about 25 per cent from HK$12,760.

Eastern District Parent Teacher Association vice-chairman Raymond Jao Ming said the scheme provided parents with more freedom but fierce competition could lead to cost cutting.

'The scheme is a big help for parents as more schools will be within their means,' Mr Jao said. 'But competition among profit-making kindergartens is a worry as it could affect quality.'