No licence, yet preschool's up and running
Dennis Chong and LeeAnn Shan
A popular private school has been operating preschool classes without a licence in its new Kowloon Tong campus - but there is nothing the government can do about it.
This is because Think International is conducting its classes as 'playgroups', which fall outside current legislation.
The Education Bureau confirmed yesterday that the group's Lincoln Road campus had been operating since last month without being registered.
A bureau official, who preferred not to be named, said that the school should not operate in any format without proper certification, but that officials had their hands tied because the current Education Ordinance was not empowered to regulate playgroups.
'They are exploiting the legal loopholes,' the official said.
The school said the official permit would be ready soon and blamed red tape for the delay.
In the meantime, it said, no rules were being violated and there were no safety issues for the children attending.
Playgroups have become increasingly popular with Hong Kong parents, who send their toddlers there to get them involved in a preschool environment.
But officials have expressed concerns that the quality of teaching may not be up to standard.
At the school yesterday, administrative staff and teachers refused to answer any questions. Though there were toddler's toys scattered around the playground, no children were seen inside and curtains in classroom windows were tightly drawn.
But at about 4pm, five buses arrived in front of the school and small groups of children were escorted through a side gate to embark.
A man standing outside said that his three-year-old son had been attending the school for only a few days. The boy had been in school from 8.30am to 4.30pm but his older sister, aged five, finished classes at 3.30pm, he said.
Under the Education Ordinance, premises are not considered a school if educational activities involve fewer than eight people at a time.
According to other rules that regulate childcare centres, premises do not need to be registered as a childcare centre if fewer than five children are being taken care of.
An Education Bureau spokeswoman said it was up to the government to prove that activities constituted a class.
'If no educational activity, such as language teaching, is involved, it is outside the control of the Education Ordinance,' she said.
The group's executives refused to entertain questions yesterday about whether or not the school was operating legally.
Think International, which operates a primary school on Boundary Street, and several kindergartens and nurseries in Mei Foo, Kwun Tong and Ma On Shan, has recently expanded its kindergarten section to Lincoln Road.