Experts say children in their preschool years have a greater capacity for absorbing knowledge than at any other time of life. But it is their parents who learn some basic lessons about supply and demand when they send their little ones to certain SAR kindergartens. Too many pupils chasing too few places allows unscrupulous operators to throw away the rule book. Overcrowding is the most common practice; in one case, a school had 945 pupils instead of its allowed 332. But the Consumer Council's latest investigation reveals a far longer list of dodges than merely having children hide in toilets when school inspectors call. Overcharging is just as widespread as overcrowding. Thus it can cost more per term to send a child to kindergarten than to a private primary school. In some cases, the list of extra charges, including for air conditioning and water supply, is so blatantly excessive that operators deserve top marks for having the gall to itemise them. The Education Department was criticised last year for turning a blind eye to overcrowding for fear of interrupting the children's schooling. Since then, it has taken a stronger line and called on police to train school officers about detection techniques, prior to increasing fines from the present $3,000 and up to a minimum of $42,000. This should help curb the worst excesses. But as long as there are more pupils than places, grasping operators will seek other ways of squeezing money from parents. Sensibly, the department has ruled out a consultancy report recommendation that it should relax restrictions on kindergarten fees so they can afford to enhance facilities and teacher quality. Given the lack of ethics of some schools, letting them set their own standards could only make matters worse. Once education reforms take effect, the scramble for places may ease. But until then, there must be stronger enforcement. Kindergarten operators have had plenty of chances to improve. The department did not prosecute at first in the hope that a cautionary word alone would stop malpractice. It did not. There is no reason to look for another excuse now that the Consumer Council has unveiled more malpractice. Operators should be put on notice that they must obey the regulations or lose their licences.