Leung Sau-Ting:“Government’s Aids for the Early Childhood Education Sector Are Effective, But More Is Needed”

PTU News Reporter

Class has been suspended in Hong Kong due to coronavirus and the early childhood education sector has proven to be the most vulnerable of all. Some parents have stopped paying or cannot afford tuition fees, adding a severe burden to the operation of kindergartens in late-February. The government announced subsidies for kindergartens in an effort to alleviate the economic pressure faced by kindergartens. PTU Executive Committee member Leung Sau-Ting says that the government’s relief measures are effective, but some kindergartens are still in stringent financial situation even with the subsidy in place. She hopes that the government can provide further aids.

The Education Bureau announced last Thursday (20th February) its plan to provide kindergartens with subsidies in face of their financial difficulties. Kindergartens that have 33 or fewer students would receive a subsidy of $120,000 if they are long whole-day kindergartens and a subsidy of $100,000 if they are whole-day kindergartens. Kindergartens that have more than 33 students would receive a subsidy of $160,000 if they are long whole-day kindergartens and a subsidy of $140,000 if they are whole-day kindergartens. Leung points out that the enrolment rates and modes are diverse amongst kindergartens. The subsidies might fall short for some kindergartens, especially private kindergartens, which face greater difficulties. She hopes that the government can better understand different situations of kindergartens and provided assistance accordingly.

The PTU conducted a survey earlier and discovered that, among the interviewed kindergartens that charged, 70 per cent of schools stated that some parents had stopped paying tuition fees due to class suspension. An approximate of 98 per cent kindergartens offer nursery classes would be affected. Leung says kindergartens remain open during class suspension and require a certain number of teachers and staff members. Teachers who work from home are also occupied with online teaching, contacting parents, and preparing for class resumption to ensure children can learn from home.

Government Measures Benefit Early Childhood Education and Parents

Kindergartens are not alone in their difficulties. Leung understands that some parents’ work is affected by the epidemic and they, as a result, can no longer pay tuition fees. “The epidemic has taken a toll of the economy of Hong Kong as a whole. Some parents’ livelihood is also affected and they can no longer afford the tuition. Although kindergartens remain open, parents might be reluctant to take their children out. I have even heard stories about parents who quit their jobs to stay home and take care of their children. Their livelihood is severely affected.” The government’s relief measures can not only help kindergartens in surviving the financial crisis, but also relieve parents’ financial pressure.

The demand for disinfectant products and masks are in tight supply and high demand now, making it challenging for kindergartens to purchase. Kindergartens are different from secondary and primary schools. Young children are barely able to take care of themselves and kindergartens have higher standards for hygiene. “Some children do not like wearing masks and tend to take them off. The masks would have to be disposed then as they are dirty.” Leung estimates that a child would need two to four masks every day at school once class resumes, but masks for children are hard to come by for both kindergartens and parents. “Once class resumes, kindergartens would have to provide children with masks as parents would not be able to get their hands on them. Kindergartens could need up to a few hundreds of masks every day.”

Government Should Coordinate Purchase of Disinfectants and Masks

Leung says that kindergartens usually have a stable supply of disinfectants and masks in preparation for the peak season of flu in winter. She noticed in early January that the epidemic was worsening and had already asked her colleagues to purchase more masks and disinfectants. “Delivery is usually within a week.” But the supplier informed the kindergarten that, due to the high demand of masks, delivery would only be possible in early March. The purchase was eventually cancelled. “There was no craze in buying masks yet, so I asked colleagues to help buy masks for children if they come across any. We managed to buy a few boxes before the craze.” She criticises the government was slow in response. “Even kindergartens had already started preparing in late January. Why hadn’t the government?” In response to the subsidies announced by the government last Thursday, Leung agrees financial aid is helpful, but as it is difficult to purchase disinfectants and masks, it is, in fact, more important for the government to coordinate purchase of these products on behalf of schools. She hopes the government would listen to the education sector.