PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 March, 2010, 12:00am

No ethnic bias in kindergarten voucher scheme

I refer to the report ('Voucher scheme biased, group says', February 25) and your editorial ('Kindergarten voucher scheme must be for all', February 26). I would like to clarify some misconceptions regarding the policy and operation of the pre-primary education voucher scheme.

The scheme has been in operation since the 2007-08 school year and does not discriminate against any child on the basis of race, disability, sex or family status.

Every child aged at or above two years and eight months (before September 1 of the school year of admission to the nursery classes) with right of abode, right to land or valid permission to remain without any condition of stay in Hong Kong, irrespective of their ethnic origin, and attending a local non-profit-making kindergarten charging a tuition fee not exceeding a prescribed threshold (HK$24,000 per annum for a half-day place or HK$48,000 for a whole-day place), is eligible for the voucher.

The scheme does not exclude non-Cantonese-speaking children. The fact is that among the 762 non-profit-making kindergartens that have joined the scheme, 405 (53 per cent) have admitted non-Chinese students.

The operating principles of the scheme are consistent with the proposal approved by the Legislative Council in 2006. Kindergartens under the scheme are required to offer a full local curriculum in accordance with the Guide to the Pre-primary Curriculum 2006, which sets out among other things the key elements of quality pre-primary education. These kindergartens are expected to provide a quality programme to develop children's interest and facilitate their acquisition of basic learning skills, to enable smooth learning progression to primary schools and integration with the local community. Early integration with local children and the opportunity for Chinese language learning will also support an interface with local primary schools.

The reference made to Cantonese in the curriculum guide is a factual description of the current language situation in Hong Kong. It does not exclude eligible kindergartens that are providing services for non-Chinese-speaking children from joining the scheme.

Tony Tang, principal assistant secretary for quality assurance, Education Bureau

Credit card trap for students

Two questions came to mind when a young relative incurred credit card debts of about HK$20,000 and had to ask a family member to repay the bank and a financial institution. Should banks issue credit cards to university students who do not yet have any earning capacity, and should the Monetary Authority forbid this practice?

I am sure the bank and financial institution knew very well that my relative did not have a fixed income when they offered the credit cards. Yet armed with this knowledge, they nevertheless offered to lend money by issuing credit cards to the youngster expecting the parents to pay the bills.

Obviously the credit limit was not small for that amount of debt to be incurred.

When I was a student a long time ago in England, I was not allowed to borrow money. The rationale was very clear. How could I repay the debts?

So why are banks in Hong Kong doing this? According to my limited knowledge, the cause of most bankruptcies is that the debtors have too many credit card debts.

As I understand it, the interest rate for this kind of debt can be as high as 36 per cent.

This is a great business for the banks, which do not have to pay interest to savers who deposit money with them.

However, to give credit to a young person who has no earning ability is like giving a gun to a youngster. They will be tempted to use it because it is so easy to pull the trigger without realising the serious consequences.

In addition, bad buying habits are cultivated early, so that when they do earn money after graduation they can never save enough to buy necessities.

Is this the right education for our younger generation?

Helena Tse, Discovery Bay

Image doesn't stop at pyjamas

The authorities in Shanghai are clamping down on citizens who walk through the streets wearing their pyjamas. This is being done ahead of Shanghai World Expo, which opens in May. The central government wants to improve the image of the metropolis in the hope that visitors see it as an international city.

Is this measure just to be implemented before and during the expo?

Surely the authorities should be getting across the message even after expo has ended, that it is not appropriate for people to wear pyjamas when they go out in public.

I also understand that, as officials want Shanghai citizens to be able to communicate with foreign visitors, they are distributing cards with English phrases. It would be better to offer subsidies so people could learn English.

The central government wants Shanghai to be regarded as an international city, but it is not going to achieve that aim by adopting these policies.

Kanis Lam Tsz-kan, Ho Man Tin

Litter laws must apply to taxis

I agree with P. A. Crush ('Taxis not on littering list', February 25) that the anti-littering law does not cover taxis.

Reports I have sent to the relevant department on the 'Littering from vehicles report form' have been ignored.

However, I can reassure your correspondent that the forms really do work.

My reports over the past few years have, with the exception of taxis, resulted in a very high conviction rate - almost 100 per cent.

Furthermore the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department has the courtesy to inform me of the results.

Nevertheless, more needs to be done to get taxis, minibuses and other forms of public transport into the net.

J. R. Paine, Tai Hang

How sincere on recycling?

As citizens of this planet who are aware of its problems, my boyfriend and I try to live in an eco-friendly way.

Therefore, we have supported the government's recycling programme. Every week we separate our refuse and rinse all the items that can be recycled - plastic bottles and tin cans.

On Monday morning, as usual, we took the recyclable items to the collection point in the car park of the Hong Kong Housing Society in Tai Hang.

As my boyfriend was putting the bottles into the plastic recycling bin, a refuse collector came over, took them out and threw them into the regular bin. She said they would not be collected as they were not worth anything and she would need to get rid of them.

We were shocked by this.

Does that mean that all the government posters and TV adverts - urging us to do our bit and recycle - are a lie? If residents who are trying to recycle are wasting their time, then the government should come clean and tell us this is the case.

Greta Lai, Tai Hang

More handouts for the rich

The budget contained nothing much for the grass roots, but it was still better than the last one with more sweeteners for the middle class.

However, owning a home remains beyond the reach of millions of Hong Kong citizens.

Critics are correct when they say that an increase of half a per cent stamp duty on properties valued at more than HK$20 million will not cool the housing market. It should have been 1 or 2 per cent, and half a per cent for homes worth more than HK$10 million.

Our administration cares more for the small elite of property tycoons than the millions of Hongkongers whose dream of owning a home will not be realised.

I urge our financial secretary and chief executive to think more about the needs of the underprivileged in our society and to consider the long-term future of Hong Kong.

A. L. Nanik, Tsim Sha Tsui

Poor is lethal

In a city that has a high suicide rate among schoolchildren, it does not surprise me that children are also taking drugs or getting addicted to the internet to escape real life. Unless something is done about the causes, we won't solve the problem.

Parents should get the children to bed early and give them a good breakfast before they leave for school. In short, give them a home and provide them with everything they need to be successful and feel good about themselves. Class sizes should be reduced to 15.

Employees should be paid enough so they do not have to do overtime and can spend more time with their families. As there will be 1,001 reasons found why all this is not considered possible, we will end up with punishments for children who take drugs - as well as 'disbelief' and hand-wringing when they take their own lives.

Andreas Renn, Sai Kung

Doesn't add up

A few months ago there were half-page adverts extolling the benefits of spending HK$69 billion on a high-speed rail link. The first reason on the list was to provide jobs in the construction industry.

Then I read the report ('Labour imports for projects on the cards - Construction industry faces workforce gaps', February 27).

If the anonymous donor of the adverts could not quantify the labour force required for the immediate future, how could he claim any economic benefits for the scheme over the next 50 years? Could the donor comment and give his name, please? Fat chance.

S. P. Li, Lantau