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PLEDGE ON FREE KINDY EDUCATION

Winnie Chong

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

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Free education is on track to be extended from 12 to 15 years to include kindergarten.

Education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim revealed the plan at a forum, saying the government acknowledges the importance of early childhood education.

Accordingly to one source, another option is to give preschoolers HK$16,000 in cash instead of vouchers annually for three years.

"In order to make sure Hong Kong will be able to develop one of the best, most competitive kindergarten education policies, there must be three years of free education," Ng said.

He did not say, however, when the plan will get off the ground.

It may also encounter divided views, said Mervyn Cheung Man- ping, chairman of the Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organization.

He said some parents, especially those who are more affluent, do not want the government to intervene.

Cheung also said the cash plan may not be enough to cover fees as the operating costs of some kindergartens are high.

Education Convergence executive committee member Tso Kai-lok said there may be other complications.

"Kindergartens are not like primary or secondary schools, whose premises are provided or funded by the government," he said.

Ng, meanwhile, also hopes that by 2015 one in every three secondary school graduates will find a place in a local university - up from the current one in four.

But Tso said the target is still too conservative, adding the ratio should be increased to 40 percent in three years' time. He said because of the declining student population, the percentage of students admitted to university will rise "even if nothing is done."

Chui Hong-sheung, president of Hang Seng School of Commerce, agreed that the target percentage is still "too low."

He said the percentage of secondary school students going to university in South Korea is 80 to 90 percent, while in Taiwan it is almost 100 percent. In the United States and Europe, most students can find a university place if they want, he said.

Chui called on the government to subsidize degree courses in private universities so as to enhance the quality of university education and foster competition among local universities.

He said the students then can choose a high quality degree course, regardless of whether it is a University Grants Committee-funded or self-financed degree course.


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