Most people agree that children should have the right to a free education. But for how many years? What's the cut-off point when it becomes impractical for the government to keep on paying for students? So far, Macau has provided one more year of free education than Hong Kong does. From the third year in kindergarten to the third year in secondary school, education is free, making it a total of 10 years. Now, as Macau's coffers overflow with casino money, the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau is ready to extend the length of free education. The debate is: should it be extended at the kindergarten level, or at the secondary school level, or both? When President Hu Jintao visited Macau during the enclave's fifth handover anniversary, he gave Macau 'Four Hopes', one of which is that Macau dedicates resources to cultivate the next generation and develop quality human resources. Mr Hu's instructions left the city's educators scrambling to voice their opinions on how this can be achieved. Free kindergartens will benefit a greater number of students, since every child goes to elementary school. If the trend of leaving school to join casinos and hotels continues, the number of secondary students would drop. Should the government make it compulsory that everyone stays in secondary school and graduate from Form Six? Or should the government waive tuition to whoever wants to attend Form Four or above? 'If students find themselves in financial difficulty, they can apply for government aid to complete their secondary education,' said Education and Youth Affairs Bureau chief So Chiu-fai at a recent education committee meeting. His department favours extending free and mandatory education to the first two years of kindergarten. But outspoken legislator Ng Kuok-cheong said youths should have the right to a free secondary education, especially since the Macau government can afford it. 'Students should be entitled to a free secondary education,' Mr Ng said at a legislative assembly session. 'That's different from telling them they could apply for government aid. They shouldn't need to present documents and show that they need the money.' But Mr So said the government would keep its options open for students who wish to attend technical schools. Since Macau's manpower shortage ranges from casino professionals to simple plumbers or technicians, Mr So believes some students should be encouraged to attend polytechnics instead of the traditional grammar school. 'Polytechnic schools carry a stigma,' Mr So said. 'Some parents believe that only losers end up attending technical training. Our department will make an [effort] to reverse this misconception.'