About 10 per cent of Hong Kong’s kindergartens may close if enrolment continues to fall amid immigration wave and a record low birth rate, a teachers’ group has warned, after polling hundreds of preschools.
In releasing its findings on Tuesday, the Federation of Education Workers called for the government to increase the subsidy per pupil by one-fifth or provide a one-off grant of about HK$200 million (US$25.5 million) to HK$300 million.
A study conducted by the Federation of Education Workers on 230 kindergartens last December showed preschools operating half-day and full-day classes had 23 and 19 fewer K1 pupils, respectively, on average in the current academic year.
“The survey showed nearly 90 per cent of the kindergartens expected the enrolment to keep falling in the next academic year. Only 5 per cent expected there would be a rebound, as they may be situated in areas with new residential buildings,” said Nancy Lam Chui-ling, vice-chairman of the federation and a kindergarten principal.
Over 50 per cent of the respondents said they would sack teachers, more than 40 per cent would freeze salaries and nearly 20 per cent would resort to pay cuts, according to the survey.
In the poll, most of the kindergartens attributed the falling enrolment to the emigration wave, the second most popular option was the low birth rate and the third was the pandemic.
The city had a record-low birth rate in 2021 when only 37,000 babies were born. The federation expected the figure for last year, which will be announced in February, would be another record low.
Hong Kong has about 1,000 local and non-local kindergartens. The government’s monthly count of enrolled students dictates the subsidy the operators receive.
The federation hoped the government could increase the subsidy per pupil per year by one-fifth, from HK$36,910 to around HK$44,300, or provide a one-off grant to help ease the sector’s pressure.
Lam said that if the government did not offer help, more than 100 kindergartens might be forced to close in two or three years, adding 20 had already ceased operation in the last academic year.
“The number of kindergartens closing down this year will not be low and definitely will be higher than last year. Some expected the number to be three digits. If this turns out to be true, it will be a horrible figure. I hope it will not happen,” Lam said.
Management would reluctantly sack veteran teachers with higher pay, Lam said, adding she fired three seasoned employees in the last academic year.
“It caused a succession problem as the green teachers could not be led by the experienced teachers, and it eventually affected the education quality,” the school head said.
Secretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin said two weeks ago that kindergartens were privately operated with government subsidies and the bureau did not necessarily have to maintain a certain number of kindergartens in the city.
“The number of kindergartens should be decided by the market mechanism. It is very difficult to keep them all open. The city is ageing while other sectors are also asking the government for help. We cannot keep the kindergarten with just a handful of students,” she said.
The Education Bureau’s spokeswoman conceded that the number of kindergartens might decrease as the student population declined, noting that some small preschools could not provide quality education with limited campus space.
She suggested kindergartens in areas with aging populations relocate to new development areas where there was greater demand. School sponsoring organisations operating multiple kindergartens should consider integrating their preschools, she added.