New international preschool finds pricey space to fill a gap

The city's latest international kindergarten Safari Kid, which opened in January, says finding a suitable venue was one of its biggest challenges

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 6:16am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 6:16am

With an increasing number of local parents enrolling their children in international schools, two more international kindergartens have set up shop in Hong Kong since the start of the year to cater to the growing demand.

Both have found the high land prices one of the biggest obstacles to keeping fees low.

United States-based kindergarten group Safari Kid opened its first Hong Kong branch in Pok Fu Lam in January. It aims to provide more places for expatriate children, whose parents find it increasingly difficult to secure suitable preschool places for them.

"I think it's definitely a problem," Jared Dubbs, Safari Kid's Northeast Asian regional head, says. "[Hong Kong] parents are obsessed with finding good quality education for their children, and rightly so."

Laura Southwood, whose child is enrolled at Safari Kid, says many local parents are sending their children to international schools for their bilingual programmes. This has narrowed the range of options for expat children, who would find it tough and confusing to go through the local education system, the public relations representative says.

"I think there are many choices available for Hong Kong people; but not so much at the international stage, which is where Safari Kid … is trying to fill the gap," Southwood says.

The 7,600 sq ft kindergarten charges from HK$1,800 to HK$14,000 a month for classes of various durations for children aged one to six.

Dubbs says the group spent half a year trying to locate a venue for the school with plenty of outdoor space, but failed. To compensate, the school tries to get as much natural light as possible into its classrooms.

"It was very difficult [to secure our venue]," he says, declining to reveal the cost of renting the school premises.

Singapore-based EtonHouse International Preschool, which also opened its first Hong Kong branch in January, agrees that finding the right property is a challenge.

The kindergarten, not related to British boarding school Eton College, says the high property prices is a reason for its high fees.

Safari Kid sets its fee level based on market demand and those of similar kindergartens, Dubbs says. The school, which can provide about 100 places, has admitted 90 pupils so far.

Dubbs is proud of the school's philosophy, which divides pupils by their abilities rather than their ages, and focuses on developing children's maths, science, reading, writing, public speaking and communication skills. There is one teacher to every eight children to every teacher.

Interestingly, the Hong Kong branch was started after Safari Kid's Asia chief executive officer Aniruddh Gupta, who lived in the city for about a year from 2012, could not find a kindergarten in line with his own educational philosophy for his two-year-old daughter.

Now based in Singapore, Gupta says the group will open a centre there in September and another in Malaysia next month.