Give parents a greater say in early childhood education
The 115-page guideline issued by the authorities does not adequately address the concerns of the people who matter most
The other side of the coin of accepting public money is that it usually gives the government the right to some input or oversight of how it is spent. The kindergarten sector is a textbook example. It is also a potentially fractious one, because parents have firm ideas that do not necessarily accord with the views of experts and authorities of how pre-primary schoolchildren should be taught.
Following Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s pledge to boost subsidies to HK$7 billion a year from 2017-18 to extend free education to the pre-primary level, education authorities have issued a new, 115-page curriculum guide. They are trying to stop study drills with new rules, such as discouraging writing assignments in the first year of kindergarten. The guide puts emphasis on fostering a child’s holistic development by learning through “play and free exploration”. It also recommends delaying dictation and written tests for one semester in Primary One to give children time to adapt. This all plays into the debate about the emphasis on exam-based learning as opposed to a more rounded approach.
“We hope young children will not be subjected to additional stress and unnecessary drilling.” said Dr Anna Hui Na-na , the curriculum guide’s chairwoman, reflecting the concerns of some parents and concern groups, but not all. It comes down to a contest of values, with many Hongkongers believing that the surest path to success is through exam results, a portfolio of extracurricular activities and entrance to the best schools – and that it begins in kindergarten.
Nearly 150,000 or 80 per cent of students i n 760 non-profit kindergartens will be expected to follow the rules to retain their government subsidy. But some kindergarten operators fear parents with different views will take their children elsewhere. It is hard to feel much sympathy with many operators and landlords who were quick to charge more after Leung announced the subsidy boost. Nonetheless it is not clear why we need guidelines without further community debate . The introduction to structured learning is a sensitive time. The demands on children at such a tender age is surely the business of parents.