Teachers' union disputes government claim of enough kindergarten slots

Research by teachers’ group calls into question Eddie Ng’s assurance there are sufficient slots

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 8:25am

A teachers' union has disputed official statistics on the number of kindergarten slots available, accusing the government of trying to downplay the seriousness of the shortage of places.

Kindergarten admission in the northern New Territories is shaping up to be a hot potato as parents on both sides of the border clamour for enrolment of their children for the 2014-15 school year next September.

The Professional Teachers' Union yesterday trotted out figures from its own research that differed from data announced by the education minister last week.

In North District, for instance, 94 per cent of kindergarten places were taken up in 2012-13, the union said, citing its study based on Education Bureau records.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim has said the demand for places was only 70 per cent of those available.

"The figure [in North District] reflects that [the supply] is no different from being fully saturated," education-sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said at the union's office in Mong Kok.

"The bureau told us there was no problem with the number of places and that the problem lay in admission procedures … It's a shift of responsibility."

Ip said that in 2012-13, there were only 184,251 places across the city - far fewer than the 241,000 available slots Ng had quoted to reassure parents.

The unionist lawmaker said 84 per cent of the places were occupied on average, and in border towns the rates were higher, such as 88 per cent in Tuen Mun.

Ip called for more places to be created to prepare for pupil numbers to peak in 2014-15, when 51,469 locals and 43,982 born to mainland parents would be old enough for kindergarten.

Ng countered the criticism with estimates of three- to five-year-olds starting school next year in border districts.

North District will see 4,000 three-year-olds, 4,500 four-year-olds and 3,900 five-year-olds, adding up to 12,400 pupils. The district had at least 12,500 places, Ng said. In Tuen Mun, there will be 13,300 pupils applying for at least 14,300 places.

The situations were similar in Tai Po and Yuen Long, Ng said. He reiterated that the supply was sufficient to meet the demand.

"The reason why we reveal the data is that we want to increase transparency and let parents know the genuine situation."

He said the figures were calculated by professional statisticians and education units and that the public should trust them.

He did not provide a breakdown to show the numbers of local and cross-border pupils.

In Sheung Shui, about 300 parents, mostly from the mainland, started to line up as early as Saturday outside Fung Kai Kindergarten.

The school will give out 2,000 application forms - up from 1,500 last year - from 9am today.

"We are not exploiting the rights of local children to receive education. Our children have to go to school, too," Henan resident Wang Yongjun, 40, said.