Fed up with the scramble for kindergarten places, two parents are setting up their own online application system in an effort to streamline the process.
The idea came to Dr Zheng Yanfeng and May Law Wai-ying in January last year after they spent hours queuing for application forms for their children.
"First I had to line up to get the forms, then I had to do it again to submit them for my three-year-old daughter," said Law, a mother of two girls. "But on top of that, for each application I had to fill out several forms that were pretty much identical. It's very time-consuming."
Huge queues formed at kindergartens in the New Territories last year as an influx of Hong Kong-born children living on the mainland saw parents rush to apply for places. The Education Bureau has imposed several measures to prevent a similar crush in future, including ordering kindergartens to make application forms available online.
But the friends have their own ideas for overcoming the squeeze on places. They plan to launch the website, the Kindergarten Admission Service, in May. Parents will be able to create an account for their children and need only fill in one application form, which will be used for all kindergartens that sign up to take applications via the service.
Every preschool in five districts - Kowloon City, Sha Tin, Central and Western, North and Yuen Long - was approached about signing up, and some 40 agreed to use the online system for the academic year starting next year, for which the intake process starts this year.
None of the preschools wanted to be identified at this stage.
Preschools will be sent demographic information about the applicants so that they can select pupils for interview or admission.
The Education Bureau declined to comment on the new service.
Law said the website would offer information on kindergartens, and possibly a forum for parents to discuss applications.
It would be free for preschools to use, but parents would pay a nominal fee of HK$30 or so. That fee may increase if parents apply for more than one preschool.
"We're still discussing how much [to charge] but we don't want to encourage parents to apply to too many kindergartens," Law said.
Zheng, an assistant professor of business at the University of Hong Kong, said preschools could use new technology to process the applications they get.
"But it's going to be challenging to convince the preschools, especially given that we're independently promoting this system," he added.
Zheng said that, ideally, all local kindergartens would sign up for the service.
"We may need to apply for funding from universities or the government, or seek donations from the business sector," he said, adding that a non-profit social enterprise would be set up to run the website in the future.
The pair are also considering setting up application centres down the track, where parents could receive assistance with the process from university students.
But Rosa Chow Wai-chun, chairwoman of the Early Childhood Educators Association and a preschool principal, was not convinced the website would do much to reduce the administrative load on kindergartens.
"Parents can definitely save time but the preschools still need to arrange interviews with parents, notify them and meet them," Chow said. "We still have many administrative procedures to get through."
Chow also questioned how information submitted by parents would be kept private.