Parents are quick to tell you their criteria for choosing one school over another, but rarely does a school’s registration status with the Education Ordinance make the list.
Competition to secure a place in the primary and secondary school of choice is so rife that parents are increasingly looking to pre-primary schools to give their offspring a competitive edge at interviews. By the time they reach the age of four, many Hong Kong children are taking music lessons, studying a foreign language and enrolled in at least one sport.
Tapping in to this trend, private schools across the territory are promoting international curriculums, multi-lingual programmes and an array of activities aimed at children under the age of six.
Not surprisingly, the Education Bureau wants to raise awareness about the registration status of any institution calling itself a school.
Hong Kong does not mandate pre-primary school education and it is not included in the guaranteed 12 years of education. This allows parents to choose what type of pre-primary education they want for their children. The most common choice is kindergarten, but it is not the only one.
Commonly referred to as learning, tutoring or education centres PSNFCs (Private Schools Offering Non-Formal Curriculum) are defined by the bureau as schools providing any educational course other than nursery, kindergarten, primary, secondary or post secondary education. By definition they get no government funding.
To obtain a registration certificate, schools must meet requirements in three principal areas: school management, health requirements set by the Department of Health and requirements defined by the Fire Services Department (FSD) & Buildings/Housing Department. A provisional registration, normally valid for one year, may be issued while full registration is being finalized.
Ten years ago, a category of schools called Private Schools Offering Non-Formal Curriculum (PSNFCs) was created with the objective of allowing schools in this group to “meet the fast changing needs and demands of the society.” They are and found across the territory.
The Education Bureau defines PSNFCs as “” While they are still required to comply with safety and health requirements, PSNFCs are exempt from certain provisions pertaining to school fees, holidays and hours of instruction, allowing them more flexibility to operate. They also do not receive any funding from the Government.
Although Hong Kong has over 900 registered kindergartens, there is a high demand, leaving PSNFCs to fill the void. They are popular options for parents wanting to fill their child’s day while waiting for a spot in their chosen institution or as a way of supplementing mainstream kindergarten curriculums.
But increasingly, PSNFCs are promoting half and full-day programmes, defined curriculums and activities that meet parents’ expectations for pre-primary education, closing the gap with formal kindergartens.
A bureau leaflet offers a guide for choosing a private school offering a non-formal curriculum. In particular, it states parents should verify that the school is registered. A search engine on the bureaus’s website allows anyone to look up a school and check its status. Confusingly, however, PSNFCs are listed as “Others” in the school level category.
Parents can also ask the school for its registration number or view the certificate of registration, which must be displayed in a prominent place within the premises. To obtain a registration certificate, schools must meet all the requirements set forth by the Education Bureau in three principal areas: school management, health requirements and safety standards.
A provisional registration, normally valid for one year, may be issued while full registration is being finalised.
Hong Kong does not mandate a pre-primary school curriculum, so parents are choosing schools based on the curriculums promoted.
To help parents make an informed decision, the Curriculum Development Council publishes a guide, available on the bureau’s website.
The guide recommends that early childhood education should concentrate around four main developmental objectives – physical, cognitive and language, affective and social and aesthetic .