Early childhood development has a profound influence on children’s future, hence we strive to lay a solid foundation for children’s learning and balanced development by providing them with quality kindergarten (KG) education. In recent years, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has continuously stepped up support for KG education, which stretches from the commitment of resources and provision of school premises to curriculum design, teacher training and home-school cooperation. Our goals are to foster the sustainable development of KG education, reduce parents’ financial burden and provide students with quality education.
Kindergarten education scheme: reform and review for advancement
Since the 2017/18 school year, the Government has implemented the kindergarten education scheme (Scheme) to provide quality and highly affordable KG education and enhance children’s accessibility to different modes of KG services that suit their specific needs. The Scheme, which involves an additional recurrent expenditure of $2.7 billion, has significantly increased the Government’s commitment to KG education to around $6.7 billion per year. Apart from alleviating parents’ burden of paying school fees, we have also put in place various measures to enhance the overall quality of KG education. These include improving the overall teacher to pupil ratio from 1:15 (including the principal) to 1:11 (excluding the principal), revising the curriculum guide, enhancing teachers’ professional development in a more structured manner, reinforcing the support for students with diverse needs, strengthening the Quality Assurance Framework and promoting parent education.
In 2019, the Education Bureau (EDB) conducted a comprehensive review on the implementation of the Scheme, and a review report was released in August 2021. Overall speaking, the Scheme has run smoothly and received wide support from the community. At present, as many as 90 per cent of the half-day KGs joining the Scheme (Scheme-KGs) are free of charge, such that students can receive quality education that suits their needs and parents are relieved of financial burden. KGs can maintain features of flexibility and diversity so as to promptly respond to social changes and parents’ needs.
In pursuit of excellence, the EDB has trodden the path of reform, review and refinement together with stakeholders of the KG sector over the past five years. Among others, the EDB has recently rolled out the following enhancement measures:
Improving kindergarten operation
The mechanism for allocation of KG premises has been enhanced. On the premise of raising KG’s operating standards and meeting district needs, the procedures for allocating KG premises have been streamlined to reduce the administrative work of applicant bodies. With a view to improving school environment, we will accord priority to KGs with a relocation plan and encourage them to relocate to newly developed areas, school premises with lower rental cost or Government-owned school premises. Meanwhile, the EDB has extended the provision of the $1.5 million Relocation Grant to the 2022/23 school year for KGs in need to apply. To address the difficulties in renovating KG premises faced by the sector, the quota of the Renovation Grant for this school year has increased from 50 to 250, with total funding augmented to $125 million. In this way, more KGs can make use of the grant to carry out renovation works or purchase furniture for improvement of school premises in order to create a better learning environment for students.
In addition, taking the views of the KG sector, the EDB will, starting from the annual accounts for the 2021/22 school year or the 2021-22 financial year, combine the surplus of the teaching staff salary portion with that of the other operating cost portion when determining the ceiling for the accumulated surplus of unit subsidy. This arrangement can cater for the circumstances of different KGs and enable more flexible, steady operation. In parallel, the requirement of prescribing 60 per cent of unit subsidy as teaching staff salary portion remains unchanged to ensure that teachers are reasonably remunerated. As a facilitating measure for KGs, the EDB will adopt simplified procedures to process all applications for fee freeze, fee reduction or necessary fee increase not exceeding the specified levels starting from the school fee revision exercise for the 2022/23 school year. The KGs concerned are only required to complete simpler schedules. The new arrangement, while benefiting the KG sector by reducing schools’ administrative work and speeding up the vetting process, can effectively ensure that fee revision remains reasonable for the sake of safeguarding parents’ interests.
Enhancing teachers’ professional development
The quality of education hinges on teachers’ professional capacity. To enhance KG teachers’ capacity and foster their professional development, the EDB provides a one-off Professional Capacity Enhancement Grant of $100,000 to $200,000 for Scheme-KGs this school year with a total allocation of over $85 million to take forward school-based professional development programmes for teachers. On top of this, to strengthen support for middle leaders in KGs, the EDB provides a five-week in-service professional development course for experienced teachers, senior teachers or teachers aspiring for senior posts starting from the current school year. The measure is accompanied by the provision of a supply teacher grant.
Promoting parent education
As children’s first teachers, parents play a crucial role in children’s upbringing. Parent education is therefore an essential part of quality early childhood education. The EDB has just announced the provision of a one-off Parent Education Grant to Scheme-KGs with an additional subsidy of $90,000 to $100,000 in the 2021/22 school year. The total estimated funding involved amounts to $75 million. The provision seeks to encourage KGs to kick-start and organise structured parent education programmes, establish parent-teacher associations and set up/enhance the designated webpage “Resources for Parents” on their school websites in the coming five years.
Supporting families with financial needs
To ease the financial burden of needy families, the Government is planning to uplift the fee remission ceiling under the Kindergarten and Child Care Centre Fee Remission Scheme from the existing 75th percentile to the 100th percentile of the school fees charged by existing Scheme-KGs. In other words, parents eligible for full fee remission will no longer be required to pay the difference between the remission ceiling and the actual school fee.
Partnership with the sector
The continuous enhancement of the Scheme is the fruit of the concerted efforts made by the EDB and the KG sector. Looking ahead, the EDB will continue to work with the sector, conduct reviews and make refinements to various measures in a timely manner to ensure the healthy growth and development of young children.
27 January 2022