PTU News Reporter
Overnight long queues appearing recently in North District for the enrolment forms of kindergartens show again the irresponsibility of the Education Bureau toward the education planning. Mr Eddie Ng, our Secretary for Education, even said that queueing for the enrolment forms is a normal phenomenon. When the situation has worsened, the Bureau could do nothing but shrug off the responsibility to the education sector, and urge the kindergarten to improve the enrolment process. To minimise the scope of this incident, the bureau even announced that the number of kindergarten places was sufficient, which has aroused greater suspicions among public members.
Actually the shortage of kindergarten places is not inexplicable. The number of kindergarten has dropped for the previous 10 years, and the number of kindergarten places has only incresaed by 3% from the school year of 2008 to 2012. However, the population of school children has increased by 18.2% simultaneously, which has consequently increased the capacity utilisation rate from 74% to 84%, and especially that of North District reached 94%, a saturated level. Even in the neighboring districts such as Yuen Long, Tai Po and Tuen Mun, the utilisation rate has also reached above 90%. So that’s why the Government announcement about the sufficiency of kindergarten places has triggered off suspicions.
The Imbalance between the demand and supply of kindergarten places
In the press conference held on last Monday, Fung Wai-wah, our President and Ip Kin-yuen, our Legco member, made estimates on the number of kindergarten places of the coming years. They pointed out that the problem has just aroused and in 2014 the seriousness of the problem has reached its zenith, when around 95 thousand children have the rights to local kindergarten education, but the number of places will only amount to around 60 thousand. With reference to the previous experience that around 80% of the places were filled, there would be around 51 thousand children being admitted to the kindergarten in 2014, which could barely be accommodated by the existing number of places. If around 8 – 9% of the children of some 40 thousand women of Mainland China come to HK for the education, the current number of school places can hardly entertain the need of the whole community.
We do the statistics and make estimates ourselves, because the Bureau has seldom announced their estimates on the number of cross-boundary students, presumably because of the large discrepancy between the estimates and the reality. Surprisingly was that our Secretary for Education suddenly announced their estimates last week, that the number of K1 places in North District was around 4 thousand, which sufficiently met the demand, according to him. However, we thought that he made it wrong, as he assumed that there was no big change between the admission rate of cross-boundary students in 2012 and that in 2014 and therefore he saw no ever-increasing trend in the coming year. With reference to the previous increasing trend and the principle of flexible planning strategy, we believe that around 8 – 9% of increasing rate can more accurately reflect the reality, which is around 3519 to 3958 cross-boundary students being admitted to the local kindergarten in 2014. The number provided by Ng was therefore an under-estimated one, by around 500 to 900 enrolments.
Our elaboration with statistics does not mean to frighten the community, but we hope that the Government can address this issue seriously, including the expansion of the number of kindergarten places and bearing in mind this promise. In 2011, the doubly non-permanent resident children amounted to 35 thousand. Though it can be treated only as a short-term issue, we cannot put it aside. In 2011, the number of children of female Hong Kong resident reached above 50 thousand, and in 2012, it rose by 21% to 58 thousand. These cohorts of children will be admitted to the kindergarten next year, which will definitely enhance the competition among parents. This lack of kindergarten places is now concentrated in North District, and will probably become a territory-wide issue in the coming years.
First Priority: Safety and Health of School Children
Last week a meeting was held among the Bureau and the principals of kindergarten of Tai Po and North District. Three points were discussed: firstly, priority of distribution of places should be given to school children of nearby residence, but it does not mean to rule out those cross-boundary students. Secondly, the Bureau proposed the kindergarten to upload the enrolment form or put the registration process to the internet, and the distribution of enrolment forms should have no limit. Thirdly, parents should only enroll once, and parents should be traced whether they have enroled in different kindergarten after their first enrolment.
Since the kindergarten children are of small age, we support that they should be better admitted to kindergartens in their neighbourhood. Moreover, we believe that the kindergarten should serve the nearby children, and the kindergarten places should not be distributed with reference to their parents’ family background. What’s more, we are concerned about the danger facing the cross-boundary students during their journey to kindergarten. Therefore the Bureau should encourage parents to send their children to kindergarten near their residence. About tracing the enrolment record, the Bureau pointed out that they needed to look into the details before any decision. We here stress that the Bureau should centralize the whole tracing process, as individual kindergarten fails to do this process with its limited human resources. For the unlimited distribution of enrolment forms, manpower and facilities of the kindergarten are also too meager to deal with this task, and therefore the kindergarten were all so hesitatant to adopt these measures.
Fixing the Demand-supply Imbalance
Very disappointingly, so far the Bureau has just discussed with the sector about how to improve the enrolment method and procedure. To rectify this situation, we accentuate that the Bureau should collect the figures of the cross-boundary kindergarten, primary and secondary school students, and evaluate the current conditions of those whose parents are “doubly non-permanent resident parents” and those Mainland pregnant women whose husbands are Hong Kong permanent residents. Based on the thorough record of those students, the Bureau can balance the demand for the kindergarten places and its supply. Definitely, the Bureau should also evaluate whether the number of qualified teachers is sufficient to meet the community’s demand and make a thorough planning on the kindergarten education from time to time. We urge the Bureau to keep an open ear to the voice of the pre-primary education sector so as to minimise the uncertainty of the policies.