Give Hong Kong’s parents and children a fairer deal
With more young couples deciding against having children, women who choose to be mothers need to be given support, especially if they are to stay in the workforce. Expanding universal childcare and kindergarten education are ways to do that
If children attending full-day kindergartens become smarter and better adjusted socially than those in half-day ones, that would be super-big news.
As it is, it’s hardly surprising that they are not better off cognitively or socially, according to a University of Hong Kong study. Even so, a majority of parents still want the option of having full-day school available. Why? Because Hong Kong badly needs quality but affordable childcare, especially if both parents work.
In interviews with about 300 parents, the HKU study found that seven in 10 wanted the option of whole-day kindergarten programmes for their three- to five-year-olds. About eight in 10 said a longer school day would help with social and emotional development while almost nine in 10 said their children would learn to take better care of themselves.
Now, I have no research to back this up. But with all due respect to domestic helpers and grandmothers, a child is probably better off educationally and socially spending the day at kindergarten than at home.
If there is one educational area where the post-handover government has a better policy than its colonial predecessor, it is that it has adopted almost universal subsidies for non-profit kindergartens.
Of 881 kindergartens in the city, more than 700 receive public subsidies for every pupil enrolled in a half-day programme, while additional grants are available for full-day sessions.
It’s as much about the children than the parents, or rather the mothers on whom the primary responsibility of childcare still rests. If we want them to enter and remain in the workforce, they need quality childcare.
If you want women to want to become mothers, you need quality childcare. If you want to slow down our rapidly ageing population, you need to give local mothers support.
But a Family Planning Association study last year found the number of local women who don’t want children more than doubled from 9.8 per cent in 1992 to 23.4 per cent in 2012. Our fertility rate is woefully about 1.2 births per woman; the magic number to keep a population steady is 2.1.
But with the myriad problems young couples face today, from a huge mortgage to high costs of living and education, who can blame them for not wanting children?
We shouldn’t give up just yet, though. Expanding universal childcare and kindergarten education still gives young children and parents a fairer deal.