SCMP Thursday, October 12, 2000

EDUCATION

Cash boost for kindergartens 'long overdue'

CYNTHIA WAN

The $100 million earmarked for improvements to kindergartens and nurseries failed to impress educators, who said it was long overdue.
The Chief Executive said the money would be reserved in the next financial year for the implementation of suggestions made by a new joint working group to upgrade kindergartens and nurseries.
The recommendations are expected to cover subsidies and teacher-training, both of which have long been criticised as inadequate.
However, educators were disappointed there was no extra cash for teachers' salaries.
Professor Leslie Lo Nai-kwai, director of the Hong Kong Institute of Educational Research at the Chinese University, said: "It's quite a disappointment that no direct subsidy will be given to improve teachers' salaries. The $100 million is an indication that the Government is going in the right direction, but it's hardly a pleasant surprise for me.
"I hope teacher qualifications at nurseries can at least be brought on to a par with those at kindergartens," Professor Lo said.
Sansan Ching Tak-chee, director of the Council of Early Childhood Education and Services, said: "The Government has owed resources to early childhood education for a long time.
"The allocation has to be a recurrent one of a substantial amount as we've a lot of catching up to do in materials for learning, teaching and research."
Ada Mak Tse How-ling, chairman of the Association of Early Childhood Teacher Education, said the Kindergarten Subsidy Scheme had to be relaxed. Under the scheme, kindergartens are given an allocation to hire no more than 60 per cent of qualified teachers. Some have to charge higher fees to cover the remainder.
Ms Mak warned that kindergartens might have to put fees up even further if teacher qualifications were raised without an increase in government subsidies.
A joint working group will be formed by the Education Department and Social Welfare Department to come up with suggestions on the "harmonisation" and upgrading of early childhood education in about a year.
The aim is to bridge the differences in teaching standards, curriculums and facilities between kindergartens operating under the Education Department and nurseries under the Social Welfare Department. The harmonisation programme was first proposed in 1994 but failed to get off the ground.
There are about 750 kindergartens, mostly private, and 420 private and subsidised nurseries.
To boost the quality of early childhood education, new kindergarten teachers will be required to have at least five passes in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations instead of just two.
So far, 368 principals and teachers have completed the Government's Certificate in Education (Kindergarten) course, and the administration has brought forward its goal of having all newly recruited school heads and teachers trained under the scheme from 2004 to 2002.