More than 100 kindergartens in Hong Kong could face closure next year, the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers said, as its latest survey found that over 70 percent of kindergartens suffered a decrease by a quarter in admissions last year due to a low birth rate, the pandemic and the emigration wave.
The survey was conducted last December with 229 kindergartens taking part.
About 79 percent of kindergartens offering half-day classes said they faced a decrease in admissions last September, with 23 fewer students on average at each school, compared with admissions from the year before, while 76 percent of kindergartens offering whole-day classes lost 19 students per school on average.
Federation vice chairwoman Nancy Lam Chui-ling said: "Kindergartens are seeing a sharp decrease of nearly a quarter in student admissions this academic year. The situation is getting more serious."
Only half of the kindergartens surveyed said the capitation grants were enough to cover teaching staff's salaries and only 60 percent thought the subsidies could cover operational costs.
As a result, Lam said about 20 kindergartens in Hong Kong were closed last year, adding that the figure may rise to three digits this year.
Some 60 percent of the kindergartens said that they plan to lay off some teachers and the federation believed that up to three teachers could be laid off per school.
In view of a prospect of student admissions for the 2023-24 school year, only five percent of kindergartens said they would not consider laying off staff and freezing or cutting salaries.
"Senior teachers who are paid higher will be laid off first if kindergartens face financial problems," Lam said. "The overall education quality be affected."
A low birth rate in Hong Kong is the main reason for the decrease of admissions, according to the survey. Around 72 percent of kindergartens said low birth rates in their region led to fewer pupils. Other contributing factors include students dropping out, switching curriculum systems and a decrease in cross-border students. Lam said the pandemic and emigration wave have also contributed.
The federation urged the government to roll out short-term alleviation plans, including raising capitation grants to 20 percent per student, issuing one-off subsidies, ensuring one executive officer for each school and adjusting the teacher-student ratio to 1:11.
"Subsidies to kindergartens are granted on a per-person basis. If the schools lose one fourth of students, they'll lose one fourth of subsidies," Wu Siu-wai, vice chairman of the federation said.