22 October 2016
The already unacceptably high student-teacher ratio in kindergartens could get worse under the free pre-school education policy.  Photo: HKEJ
The already unacceptably high student-teacher ratio in kindergartens could get worse under the free pre-school education policy. Photo: HKEJ

Free pre-school education to please parents only in short run

The government will launch free pre-school education very soon, but many kindergartens are still at a loss about some of the fundamental details of the program.

I find several major drawbacks in the policy initiative itself which could have profound and negative implications for kindergarten operators, teachers and even the entire pre-school education sector.

First, the administration has vowed to spend HK$6.7 billion a year to fully implement free kindergarten education in the city.

This might sound a lot, but the amount is really far from enough to cover the extra costs in the long run.

As the government has yet to promise it would commit more money to the program, chances are most kindergartens will be left to their own devices to raise funds in the days ahead.

Under the government proposal, the maximum amount of subsidy for each student enrolled in half-day kindergartens is HK$32,900 per year, and HK$42,770 for those enrolled in whole-day kindergartens.

Given the current 4 percent inflation rate, it is estimated that the subsidies won’t be able to cover the basic operating costs of most kindergartens come 2017/18 school year at the earliest.

By that time kindergarten operators might need to cut costs to make ends meet, and that would take its toll on the quality of education they provide.

Second, the free pre-school education program hasn’t addressed the issue of unequal pay for kindergarten teachers.

For years there have been calls for establishing a master pay scale for kindergarten teachers so that they can get paid according to their qualifications and experience like their counterparts in primary and secondary schools.

However, these calls have continued to fall on deaf ears.

In face of insufficient funding, skyrocketing rent and soaring operating costs, kindergarten teachers are likely to be worse off under the new free pre-school education program.

Third, for years the kindergarten sector has been plagued by a serious shortage of support staff, mainly due to unattractive pay scales and unpromising career prospects.

As a result, kindergarten teachers often have to take care of the administrative work on top of their already crammed class schedules.

The new policy hasn’t addressed this issue at all, and it is likely that the already unacceptably high student-teacher ratio in kindergartens will only get worse.

Simply put, the free pre-school education policy is nothing more than a perfunctory measure to please parents in the short run.

It is a half-hearted policy initiative that fails to address many of the fundamental and pressing issues facing our kindergartens.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 30.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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