Government-run preschools should not be part of the city's 15 years of free education, the head of a committee on kindergarten operations has suggested.
Dr Moses Cheng Mo-chi, chair of the Committee on Free Kindergarten Education, said children should go to kindergartens close to their homes, so it was therefore necessary to maintain the flexibility offered by the private sector.
"I firmly believe that it would be impossible for large-scale government-run kindergartens [to be built]," Cheng said. "For example, if there's a new town being built … the need for kindergarten places increases."
Cheng, who is also the chairman of the Education Commission, said government planning would not be the best way to adapt to such situations. "The government can plan how many kindergarten places are needed per 10,000 or 1,000 people," he said. "But keeping kindergartens in their current mode as private institutions would be the most flexible way to cater to the interests of the people."
Cheng did not rule out the possibility of extending free education to 15 years, and his committee, set up in April, is looking at how it could be done, examining kindergartens' operations, possible options for government subvention, teachers' pay and teacher-pupil ratios. It is due to finish its study in two years.
Many educators believe there is no reason to reject the idea of government-run kindergartens, although this is not their priority when talking about realising free kindergartens.
Yung Hau-heung, the Professional Teachers' Union's early-childhood-education spokeswoman, said Cheng was being too "arbitrary" by definitely excluding public kindergartens from the agenda. She said there were such preschools across the world, including on the mainland and in Macau, and that in-depth research was needed to decide if public kindergartens were practicable in Hong Kong.
"Of course, we don't tend to focus on government-run kindergartens. What we really want is for the government to realise free kindergartens as soon as possible, instead of making no progress on it," she said.
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said although no-one was currently asking for government-run kindergartens, it could be done if the government wanted to, as there were already public primary and secondary schools.
Meanwhile, about 100 parents from North District staged a rally in Sheung Shui yesterday to express their dissatisfaction with the government. They were demanding assurance that their children can study at kindergartens close to their homes, in light of the overwhelming number of mainland parents applying at schools in border areas.
Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim wrote on his blog yesterday that there were enough kindergarten places. He said the high demand from children of mainland parents was transitional and would decrease from 2016.