Hong Kong is preparing to implement 15-year free education with effect from the 2017/18 school year. By that time around 70 percent of local students who are enrolled in half-day kindergartens will be eligible for free education.
It appears a perfect outcome for both kindergartens and students. However, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the detail.
If we look closer at the government proposal, we may find a catch there, and chances are that the overall quality of our pre-school education and the operating environment of small kindergartens may even be worse off under the new government arrangements.
For example, the “Half-day unit subsidy” in the upcoming school year is set at HK$32,900 for each student per year. That might look impressive at first glance, but what the government will be doing is basically taking over the responsibility of paying for the tuition fees of students from their parents, but the amount of funding for kindergartens as a whole will remain largely the same.
That means parents, not kindergartens, will be the only beneficiary under the new arrangement.
To make matters worse, under the new arrangement the amount of funding for kindergartens will be made proportional to their class size and number of students, which means it will make it even more difficult for small kindergartens to survive in face of skyrocketing rents, soaring operation costs and the competition from large and cash-flush pre-school education conglomerates.
To address this issue, the government should offer special subsidies to small-scale kindergartens, or spilt the subsidies into two types, one for the coverage of operating expenses and the other portion be calculated on a per student basis.
In the meantime, the new arrangement laid down by the Education Bureau still fails to address the demand for the establishment of a Master Pay Scale for kindergarten teachers like the one adopted in public primary and secondary schools, which can better reflect professional qualifications and seniority.
Sadly, the government has continued to ignore their demand for equal treatment, thereby dealing a heavy blow to the morale of our kindergarten teachers.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 18.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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