The cost of half-day kindergarten education has risen nearly 25 per cent over the last five years, according to figures released this week. Despite the economic downturn since 1997, families are paying international kindergartens on average $45,841 a year, a 24.1 per cent increase since 1998-99, the Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics May 2003 revealed. Local kindergarten fees rose 24.8 per cent, to $15,358 a year, in the same period. The cost of whole-day kindergarten education has risen by 20.7 per cent in local schools and 3 per cent in the international sector, the digest shows. Connie Chan, principal of Park View International Pre-school justified the rise: 'Our rental costs are very high and we've lowered the student-teacher ratio.' Her school increased fees by 33 per cent. Stella Lam Suet-mui, president of the Hong Kong Kindergartens Association said the figures for local schools were 'misleading' because they included extras such as stationery and refreshments. A spokesman for the Education and Manpower Bureau said the increases had been approved by the government.