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LCQ20: 15-year free education

     Following is a question by the Hon Frederick Fung Kin-kee and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (November 16):


     Although the Chief Executive (CE) had not responded to society's aspiration for the provision of 15-year free education in his newly delivered final policy address in office, the Secretary for Education subsequently revealed at a meeting of the Panel on Education of this Council that the authorities were conducting a study on the provision of 15-year free education. Recently, those persons who intend to stand in the CE Election have also expressed their support for the provision of 15-year free education. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the reasons why the authorities have suddenly indicated that they are conducting a relevant study when for so many years they had refused to provide 15-year free education; the latest policy direction of the authorities on the provision of 15-year free education;

(b) of the details such as the objectives, scope and completion time, etc. of the on-going study on the provision of 15-year free education, as well as the resources and manpower deployed for it; the preliminary findings of the study; the anticipated difficulties and technical problems which may be encountered in implementing the policy of providing 15-year free education; and

(c) whether the authorities will conduct public consultation on the provision of 15-year free education expeditiously and hold discussions with the education sector as well as formulate an implementation timetable as early as possible?



     My reply to the three-part question is as follows:

     On October 28, 2011 at the debate on the Motion of Thanks on the Chief Executive's Policy Address, I responded to Members' suggestions of implementing 15-year free education, advising that we would continue to communicate with the stakeholders and study the implications of the suggestions and ways to address them. At the present stage, as a consensus on the ways to address the issues has not yet been reached, we are not able to draw up a timetable.

     The Government has been providing nine-year free and universal basic education (six years of primary education and three years of junior secondary education) since 1978.  Starting from the 2008/09 school year, free education has been extended to include three years of senior secondary education. Attaching great importance to pre-primary education, the Government has devoted substantial resources to this sector through the non-means tested Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme (PEVS) since the 2007/08 school year, with about $2.05 billion allocated in 2011-12. Through the PEVS and fee remission, the Government ensures that no children will be deprived of kindergarten (KG) education due to lack of financial means and parents will be offered a wide choice of KGs. In fact, KG education in Hong Kong has now become more accessible and is developing steadily. For instance, about 80% of KGs have joined the PEVS in the current school year, benefiting over 80% of KG students. The amount of fee subsidy under the PEVS for the current school year is $16,000 per student per annum, covering over 80% of the average tuition fee of a half-day KG.

     Subsequent to the implementation of the PEVS, the Education Commission set up a Working Group on Review of Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme in October 2009. In its report submitted to the Administration in December 2010, the Working Group recognised the diversity and vibrancy of our pre-primary education system as strengths to be maintained and built on. The Education Bureau (EDB) agrees that access to affordable and quality pre-primary education by needy families should be enhanced within the PEVS framework, as recommended in the report. On July 8, 2011, the EDB obtained funding approval from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council for implementing enhancement measures for the PEVS and the KG fee remission.

     We have been listening carefully to the views of the public on the implementation of 15-year free education. To our understanding, the public generally agree that parents should be offered a wide choice of KGs and an environment conducive to the diversified development of KG education should be provided. The PEVS, which provides direct subsidies for parents, is exactly designed to maintain the flexibility and diversity of Hong Kong's pre-primary education system and offer a wide choice of KGs to parents. Should 15-year free education be implemented, standardisation in areas such as student admission, tuition fees, course contents in pre-primary education would be inevitable. If tuition fees were to be standardised or fully covered by public money, how should we maintain the flexibility and diversity of pre-primary education on the one hand and address properly the remaining issues on the other? The number of KG students currently accounts for less than 80% of the total number of places in the KG sector, and the number of students in each KG varies from less than 10 to over 1 000. Apart from the maximum and minimum class sizes, we also need to address a host of issues concerning tuition fees, modes of operation, admission procedures, school facilities, supply and demand of places in different districts, etc.

     In short, we will continue to communicate with the stakeholders, listen to the views of the public and examine the far-reaching implications of different suggestions, with a view to setting the direction for sustaining quality pre-primary education.

Ends/Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:56


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