Education vouchers for kindergarten children are doing little to help families on low incomes, a study by the Institute of Education found.
The voucher system, launched in 2007, is unfair to children from poorer families because it limits their choices of schools to the 750 that signed up for the scheme, while some parents still have to pay a portion of the school fees even though they are supposed to receive full fee remission from the government, it says.
Gail Yuen Wai-kwan, an assistant professor at the institute, said 22 per cent of poorer parents found their children's education unaffordable. Nearly half of them said school fees made up more than 11 per cent of their family expenses.
The pre-primary education voucher scheme was launched in 2007. Parents of all children aged three to six can apply for a voucher of HK$16,000 per year to put their children through any of 750 kindergartens that have joined the scheme. Those on low incomes can apply for full fee remission, in which the government provides extra cash on top of the voucher.
Parents of children at 23 kindergartens had to find between HK$180 and HK$5,000 even though they were receiving full fee remission from the Education Bureau, as fees exceeded the HK$19,500 cap.
Although the value of the voucher increased by HK$2,000 last year, parents were still seeing education expenses increase, as schools fees had gone up by even more.
'The unfairness in receiving education persists,' Yuen said. 'Even in picking which school to attend, parents of lower socio-economic status would be more likely to rely on their neighbours' views [on the quality of the school]. They have fewer channels to receive information about schools.'
Researchers urged the government to provide 15 years of free education as soon as possible to close the gap in education choice between poor families and better-off ones.
They said kindergartens should follow the same rules as primary and secondary schools on recruiting pupils from their local area, and that more kindergartens should be built in poorer areas so children will not have to travel as far to school.
The 18-month study, subsidised by the government's Central Policy Unit and the Research Grants Council, involved focus groups and interviews with 1,572 parents whose children study at 44 schools. Of those, 1,372 were invited to complete a more in-depth questionnaire.
The parents were divided evenly into three groups according to their socio-economic status, taking into account income, housing and level of education.
The number of Hong Kong kindergartens that have signed on to the government's school vouchers scheme