Education concern groups across the political spectrum staged a rally yesterday, slamming Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for failing to honour his election pledge to introduce free kindergarten education in his policy address last week.
Organisers said about 2,500 kindergarten teachers and pupils attended the demonstration outside the government headquarters in Admiralty.
The rally was organised by the pan-democratic Professional Teachers' Union and two Beijing-loyalist groups, Education Convergence and the Federation of Education Workers.
Police said that about 1,300 people turned up at the demonstration.
The three groups asked Leung to immediately launch a public consultation on a 15-year free-education scheme, which would include three years of kindergarten on top of the existing system that covers primary and secondary education.
"Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying included four pledges on kindergarten education in his platform for the 2012 election. He has delivered none of them so far," PTU president Dr Fung Wai-wah said.
The other three pledges were setting up a salary scale for kindergarten teachers, increasing subsidies for kindergartens and providing preschools with salary subsidies.
Dr Gail Yuen Wai-kwan, convenor of the Alliance on the Fight for 15-year Free Education, criticised Leung's approach of merely increasing the value of the pre-primary education voucher scheme.
The administration has increased the vouchers' value by HK$2,500 each year for 2014/15 and 2015/16.
But Yuen, also an assistant professor at the Institute of Education, said the scheme did not contribute to improving teaching quality in kindergartens.
"The implementation of the voucher scheme is a total disrespect for kindergarten teachers," she said. "It has turned kindergarten education into a form of merchandise."
The Committee on Free Kindergarten Education is studying practical ways to implement its aims.
But the rally organisers criticised the committee's work, saying that it "lacked transparency".
Yesterday, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said the 15-year free-education issue was "by no means simple", but would be given the "utmost priority".
The committee would submit a report next year, he said.
Ng also said his staff would step up inspections on incoming cross-border pupils to see if their parents had enrolled them using false addresses.
His warning came in the wake of revelations that some mainland parents who had given birth to children in the city - thus making them eligible for local schooling - used the addresses of relatives or of fake guardians who lived in Hong Kong.
Last year, 46 such cases were discovered.
The children's school places would be forfeited in such cases, Ng said.