Hundreds of children and their parents crowded outside Fung Kai Kindergarten in Sheung Shui, yesterday as the first round of pupil interviews for the popular preschool got under way.
Last week parents formed long queues and waited for days to pick up application forms, with some camping overnight.
Kindergartens in Sheung Shui and Fanling are under increased pressure because of an influx of Hong Kong-born mainland children seeking places in competition with local children.
On Friday the Education Bureau announced measures to address local parents' concerns, including one that requires them to produce a letter issued by the bureau when they register for a kindergarten. The ruling, which only applies to schools in North District or Tai Po, is intended to stop parents registering at many preschools at the same time.
A Ms Yu, who applied to eight kindergartens for her daughter, said the government should have planned better for the situation. "It was only thinking about money when it allowed mainland mothers to give birth in Hong Kong," she said. "It did not think about issues after that."
She complained that some kindergartens only conducted interviews in Cantonese, limiting the chances for children like her daughter. "It's discrimination," she said.
The Tin Ping Estate resident said her daughter could not speak Cantonese although both parents were local. "My mother, who speaks only Putonghua, takes care of her and I have to work, so I don't have time to teach her Cantonese," she said.
A Ms Fu said the new measure, under which kindergartens would let parents know if their applications were successful before mid-December, relieved her worries. In the past, the admission process could take as long as a year. The Shenzhen resident said she was not too concerned about her daughter commuting.
"It takes 20 minutes to go to Hong Kong and once she's used to it, there won't be any problem," she said.
Local parent Mrs Chung welcomed the policy that children living in the district would be given priority. "We pay taxes, and the non-local parents don't. They should shoulder the higher travel costs," she said.
Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim, responding to a caller who criticised him for not doing his job well, told RTHK listeners that the situation this year emerged surprisingly quickly.
"It's not a matter of responsibility," he said, adding that he expected the number of mainland children enrolling in kindergartens next year would drop.