Kindies battle the big squeeze

Hong kong is notorious for its cramped living space, but it turns out even when children leave their homes for kindergarten, the lack of space follows them to school.

Although the government has funded kindergartens to better plan their school grounds through the Kindergarten Education Scheme, a recent survey found that nearly 60 percent of kindergartens taking part feel they could not meet the recommended 20 percent increase for the per-child available indoor area.

Conducted by the Education University, the Investigating Space in Kindergartens project conducted a questionnaire survey on 751 kindergartens in June and referred to three kindergartens as case studies.

The government’s recommendation faces various practical constraints, the study found, as a majority – 74 percent -of the given reasons behind not achieving the suggested guidelines concerned space issues.

Kindergartens generally lacked space for physical activity, while around 40 percent lacked storage room.

The situation illustrates that most kindergartens face serious space problems, said Gail Yuen Wai-kwan, associate professor of EdUHK’s department of education policy and leadership.

Besides, nearly 50 percent of respondents said arranging enough space for daily free-play activity is the biggest challenge due to confined kindergarten premises, many students and limited classroom space.

Some kindergartens pointed out that managing large-sized equipment for free play has always been a problem. Yet such facilities were found to be the most popular among children for imaginative and social play.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed had resorted to using outdoor public areas and community facilities. But in practice, the usage of these areas is low, with more than half of kindergartens expressing safety concerns and over 30 percent citing manpower issues.

Some kindergartens also mentioned problems such as a troublesome application process, which only allows single usage and has a random draw system.

Additionally, some kindergartens’ unfavorable surrounding environment has significantly discouraged the use of public spaces and community facilities.

In response to the government’s recommended standards, more than 66 percent of surveyed kindergartens believed that not listing outdoor space as a “must-have” item had contributed to the failure in addressing the longstanding problem.

These space difficulties also affect support for children with special educational needs. Many surveyed kindergartens said they are unable to effectively support their on-site rehabilitation services for these children due to the structural limitations of the premises.

“Two principals in our case studies renovated the premise to create a small group teaching room for on-site services,” said Yuen, who led the project.

“Both expressed the extra pressure of accommodating different services on the premise at the same time.”

Of those kindergartens that indicated they managed to achieve space improvement, 42 percent had reduced the number of students or faced recruitment difficulty, while others had done so by renovation and adjusting timetables or group sizes.

Yuen pointed out that the type of support needed varied for different kindergartens. “Half-day and mixed-mode kindergartens are more likely to choose to improve the teacher-student ratio and rental subsidy, while whole-day kindergartens tend to choose to reduce permitted accommodation.”

She suggested that the government provide help according to the different needs of kindergartens, while additional funding and design support should be in place for renovation and facility improvement.

(This article was published at The Standard on December 8, 2020: Education: Kindies battle for big squeeze )

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