System to prevent parents hoarding Hong Kong's kindergarten places 'may flop'

Proposed measures to streamline admissions may have no impact, says educator

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 4:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 February, 2014, 9:03am

A new system intended to streamline kindergarten admissions and prevent parents from "hoarding" places may flop, educators warned the Education Bureau yesterday.

Under the proposed system for the 2015/16 school year, parents will have to submit their government kindergarten vouchers to their chosen preschool to confirm their child's place. The rule is intended to prevent parents confirming places at several kindergartens and making a last-minute decision on which one to choose.

Kindergartens will also have to post their application forms online and make an unlimited number available to prevent parents from scrambling for a limited number of forms.

The system is intended to prevent a rush for preschool places due to a surge in births during the auspicious Year of the Dragon - 2012 - when 58,000 babies were born in Hong Kong, up 6,000 on the previous year. A rule preventing parents from confirming places at more than one kindergarten is already in place for the coming school year in the northern New Territories, where schools have seen an influx of children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents.

About 30 preschool principals and teachers met bureau officials yesterday, the day after the plans were announced in a paper to the Legislative Council.

Under the system, parents expecting their child to start kindergarten next year will have to apply for kindergarten vouchers from the Student Financial Assistance Agency between July and August this year. They will then have to submit the voucher to their chosen kindergarten in a designated period during January.

The voucher restriction had been expected to apply only in the four districts facing an influx of cross-border pupils, but will instead apply city-wide.

But Rosa Chow Wai-chun, chairwoman of the Early Childhood Educators Association, said there was a flaw in the plan. "Parents are free to withdraw vouchers when another preschool that they prefer offers them a place," she said. "There's no reduction in workload for us if parents do so."

She questioned whether the new arrangement would truly "help streamline administrative procedures".

On the distribution of an unlimited number of application forms - a measure introduced after long queues developed outside New Territories preschools last year - Chow said the arrangement could increase the workload of teachers.

"After parents get and submit the forms, they have expectations that kindergartens will interview their children," she said.

After the meeting, education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim said: "The sector is still discussing the issue. In general, everyone agrees there are advantages to distributing forms online."

He added that forms might be standardised and made available on paper at various distribution points to ease parents' concerns that they might not be able to obtain forms.

Some 722 preschools accept government vouchers, about 80 per cent of the total.

Of those kindergartens not covered by the voucher scheme, Ng said the bureau would "encourage them to work together".