The race is on. Thousands of parents are struggling to win prized places in Hong Kong's elite schools for their children. The odds against them are high - more than 15-to-one for the most sought-after schools such as St Paul's Co-Educational College Primary School in Mid-Levels. Parents are desperate as they know such schools produce many top students, measured by exam results, university entry and ultimately good jobs. Their students also shine in sports and leadership activities. Beyond every packed seminar hall there are thousands of children who, from the youngest ages possible, are being prepared for this moment. One activity after another has been organised for them, so they can collect the certificates and skills parents think are needed to impress interviewers. As far as parent educator Thomas Ho is concerned, it is never too early for parents to start preparing for this race. Foetuses of just 18 weeks old can be immersed in the BabyPlus pre-natal education, which is a service he owns the franchise for. 'This is a BabyPlus baby and could recognise many English words at only 22 months old,' the PR boasts. Hundreds of pregnant women are now buying the sound gadget involved. BabyPlus aside, academics are concerned that the dollars being spent on this race are leading to a growing divide between the haves and have nots. But of deeper concern should be the effect such competition has on children. Getting a certificate for learning to dance or paint may be preferable to being forced to excel in kindergarten maths, Chinese and English exams. But, there is a danger from the hot-housing these children face, being urged like plants towards early growth, at the expense of a childhood in which they have time to play, explore and develop a natural inquisitiveness. Moreover, it is not clear if such hot-housing really pays off. Elite schools deny they are impressed by multiple certificates and say they are looking for a more natural potential. In order to allay the concerns about how children are selected for the most sought-after schools, and to correct misconceptions among parents, a study of the backgrounds of successful candidates is now needed. However, the annual competition will not cease until the supply for places in favoured schools exceeds demand. Given the vast difference in resources elite DSS schools enjoy from fees and the generosity of their alumni, such a goal remains a utopian ideal. Parents feel the enormous pressure. It's no wonder that many in Hong Kong are reluctant to have children at all.