Kindergartens near the border are geared up for admission interviews from tomorrow, dealing with up to 1,000 pupils a day, which principals say has "created a heavy workload" for staff.
Some parents of cross-boundary pupils, meanwhile, are practising Cantonese with their children a week before the interviews to increase their chance of admission.
"Our clerk is very busy entering data of the applications, but there are also daily routines to do," Sheung Shui Wai Chou Kindergarten principal Wong Shuk-chun said. "It's not possible to hire another staff member to help so our teachers have to help too."
The school gave out about 1,300 application forms, but will be able to meet only 1,000 children when it holds interviews next Saturday. A group of six or seven children - each accompanied by one parent - will meet three teachers in a 10- to 20-minute interview held in Cantonese.
"We won't speak Mandarin, but we don't mind if they understand Cantonese and respond in Mandarin," said Wong, adding that the school's selection criteria included not only whether the children understood Cantonese but also their manner.
Fung Kai Kindergarten, which has 240 first-year places, has distributed 1,800 forms since Monday and expects to give out 200 more today. It will interview all applicants for 15 minutes tomorrow and next Saturday. Parents can accompany their children.
"More work has to be done this year as we gave out more forms and have to meet more children," Fung Kai council chairman Ma Siu-leung said. "But it's all under control as we've divided the work among our teachers when we held meetings before distributing the forms."
Shenzhen resident Deng Donghao, whose son will go to four kindergartens for interviews, said the pre-schools all conducted the interviews in Cantonese. Although his Cantonese was limited, he said he had been practising the dialect with his son, trying to get him familiar with it.
"What worries me the most is that when facing a stranger and an unfamiliar language, my son will get nervous and won't speak at all," Deng said. "Putonghua is China's national language. Why would Hong Kong only use Cantonese for interviews? It's really unfair for us."
Sam Abdessamad, a Moroccan who married a Shenzhen lawyer and has lived there for eight years, said his son could speak English, Putonghua and Arabic, but not Cantonese. He said he would not prepare his son for the eight interviews and believed he would eventually be accepted. "He must get in," he said. "My son is very smart."