The pre-school education voucher scheme was launched by the government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in September 2007. The scheme was meant to introduce reforms in education in efforts to promote good early childhood education as the foundation for a child’s lifelong learning (Education Department, 2000). Based on this scheme, every parent who has a child aged between 3 and 6 years should be given a voucher worth $13,000 every year (HKU Faculty of Education, 2008). Out of the $13,000, $10,000 can be used by the parents to pay tuition fees in the kindergartens.
The remaining $ 3000 should then be used for the professional development of the teachers in pre-school institutions. The pre-school education voucher should be used under certain conditions. These conditions are, that the voucher should not be used for generating profit, pre-school institutions such as kindergartens must make sure their accounts are open for inspection, the school must attain the set Education Bureau benchmarks within 5 years based on the pre-school quality of education, and tuition fees need to be under $24,000 for half day and $42,000 for full day programs per student, per annum.
Due to the restrictions that accompany the pre-school education voucher scheme in Hong Kong, stakeholders in the education sector have shown concern for the impact of the imposed restrictions. This has resulted to a debate that has involved the government and the stakeholders. Since its introduction in the 2007/2008 years, the voucher scheme has been very important for parents with children attending kindergartens. The scheme has provided parents with direct fee subsidy and this has eased their financial burden.
It is estimated that a total of 820 kindergartens which represents 85 per cent of the total number of kindergartens in Hong Kong have joined the scheme. In addition, 117,000 pupils are enjoying the benefits from the pre-school education voucher scheme fee subsidy. Since 1997, pre-school institutions in Hong Kong experienced reforms that considered internal effectiveness in schools to be important (Vickers, 2003). According to the Hong Kong government, the implementation of the voucher scheme is an indication of its commitment and support to pre-school education.
In addition, the schemes are a positive response to the demands that have been made by the kindergarten principals and teachers. This has become possible through the financial support that the schemes provide for the professional development of the teachers and the principals. It is very important to note that the primary objective of the pre-school education voucher scheme in Hong Kong is to provide parents with direct fee subsidy. It is estimated that over 80 percent of the total number of kindergarten teachers have managed to obtain the Certificate of Early Childhood Education(C (ECE)).
Some teachers have enrolled in the courses or have managed to obtain qualifications equivalent to (C (ECE)). To evaluate whether the voucher scheme has been successful in achieving its objectives, the Education Bureau (EDB) in Hong Kong continues to conduct Quality Review studies. By May 2009, the Education Bureau is estimated to have conducted survey on more than 320 kindergartens. The government of Hong Kong acknowledges that pre school teachers experience pressure at work and they need to develop in their profession.
The scheme is considered to be one of the ways through which the teachers’ professional development can be promoted. Impact of the Pre-school education voucher scheme on teacher’s professional development Teachers at pre-school institutions have shown their full commitment and dedication to education in Hong Kong . One of the ways through which the pre-school education voucher scheme has impacted positively on the teacher’s professional development is by trying to reduce the workload of the teachers and the principals.
Since one of the primary objectives of the scheme is to promote professional development of the teachers, the Education Bureau has continued to enhance communication between the school administration, teachers and other stakeholders in the sector (Andrew, 2008). This has resulted to efficient and continuous implementation of programs that are aimed at improving the teachers’ professional development. The quality review mechanism that has been adopted by the Education Bureau ensures that school self evaluation is done to encourage continuous improvement in education and the teachers professional development.
Teachers have been concerned about the pressure at work that results from the quality review done by the Education Bureau as well as the work load at school. However, the quality reviews that are supported due to the implementation of the pre-school education voucher scheme have promoted professional collaboration between teachers. Pre-school education in Hong Kong has for a long time been provided by the private sector and non-profit making institutions.
This demands that all pre-school institutions such as kindergartens to be well placed in a manner that the market forces are used to determine the teachers’ salaries at discretion. The launch of the pre-school voucher schemes has increased financial resources for the kindergartens and schools’ management activities (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, 2007). In addition, these resources have been used to finance efforts that aim at providing a working environment that attracts and retains qualified and well performing teachers.
The financial resources injected by the voucher scheme have also been very vital in facilitating the payment of good salaries to the teachers. These benefits have acted as a motivation for the teachers to improve their skills and abilities hence their professional development (The Education Bureau, 2009). The Hong Kong government has reaffirmed its commitment in promoting high quality education at the pre-school level by encouraging schools or kindergartens to provide the teachers with qualification allowances.
Research studies that have been conducted to determine the impact of pre-school voucher schemes in Hong Kong show that over 52 per cent of parents, principals and teachers agree that the scheme is a fair policy that promotes excellence in early childhood education. The teachers satisfaction with the scheme has been due to the opportunities the schemes have offered to them to improve their professional skills. Teachers consider the voucher scheme to have a positive influence on the schools and their staff.
By improving the quality of education offered at the kindergarten, it has become necessary for teachers qualifications to be improved. This has played an important role in the teachers’ professional development. A large number of parents with children in pre-school institutions assert that the schemes have promoted the qualifications of the teachers as well as the improvement made on the school facilities. The schemes have encouraged teachers to pursue higher education or to undertake more education courses.
At the pre-school level, extra curricular activities are very critical for children development and learning (Sweeting, 1990). Teachers compliment learning in class by extra curriculum activities. By participating in the coordination and implementation of extra curricular programs in school, the teachers’ ability to lead and teach is improved. The voucher scheme has increased financial resources to be spent for the extra curricular activities in school. By being involved in the activities, the teachers’ professional ability to use the activities in educating the children is improved.
By September 2008, about 30% of teachers at the pre-school level had enrolled and attained good qualifications after enrolling for (C (ECE)) courses which are recommended and supported by the Education Bureau. The pre-school principals who are also teachers have had an opportunity to pursue higher education . For example, about 61 per cent or a large number of principals have been enrolled to undertake the Bachelor of Education in Early Childhood Education (B Ed (ECE). A program to certify the qualification of the principals were put into place in January 2008 .
By March 2009, about 300 principals who served in the pre-schools had taken a certification course. For continuous professional development in the teachers, many kindergartens have adopted teacher development subsidy (TDC) to offer the teachers’ school based training programs. The pre-school education voucher scheme provides support services that are offered to develop language skills, cognitive abilities and physical development in children. Teachers gain from this by being engaged in creating a good learning environment, proper children learning, portfolio planning as well as curriculum planning and organization.
Being engaged in these activities has been vital in improving the professional skills of the teachers when it comes to planning for good learning at school (Bray and Koo, 2005). The Hong Kong Education Bureau participates in promoting the teachers professional development under the voucher scheme by commissioning a professional training course for their principals. By improving the principals’ leadership and management skills, the teachers are able to get good guidance and effective leadership that relate to the teacher’s work (Ranson, 2003).
The principal training course is characterized by an offshore programme and provides an on-spot consultative visit to the principal who participates in the course. About 130 principals are estimated to join the training programme. The principals have given positive feedback about the benefits of the programmes. To support the implementation of the pre-school curriculum revised guide, the Education Bureau organizes professional development programmes which relate to school based curriculum knowledge, leadership, curriculum management and pedagogical knowledge in various areas of learning.
This effort has promoted the professional development of the teachers through capacity building. Transparency in pre-school institutions has been promoted by the requirements set by the Education Bureau when it comes to the management of the financial resources . The resources provided by the scheme promote the smooth running of the schools, good remuneration for the teachers and provide a good learning environment. These have gone a long way to increase accountability of the principals and the teachers and this has motivated teachers to embrace good values that are important in professional development.
Some of the questions that have been raised about pre-school voucher schemes in Hong Kong is whether the schemes can minimize the overall work pressure on the teachers and improve the staff ratio. The pre –school education voucher schemes have promoted professional upgrading for both the principals and the teachers. For those who serve at PEVs-NPM-KGs, a teacher development subsidy is provided in each voucher. The subsidy is utilized for teacher training and development courses.
Furthermore, the teachers and the principals who serve in non PEVs-NMP-KGs can claim a reimbursement from the Education Bureau to cater for up to 50 percent of the fees for a degree or diploma course that has been approved in early childhood education. By the year 2011/2012, all teachers serving at pre-school level are expected to have obtained a certificate in Early Childhood Education (LegCo panel on education, 2009). This together with the demand by the scheme that all kindergarten principals who are appointed from 2009 to have a BEd (ECE) have encouraged teachers to pursue higher education.
In addition, the requirement for principals to have a one year post qualification experience and a certification course has encouraged principals and teachers to get engaged in professional development activities and programs. All kindergartens under the scheme have put into place measures that ensure there is continuous professional development by providing school based training programmes under the teacher development subsidy program.
Areas of school work that are covered include children’s’ development, learning and teaching, management and organization, and children and school culture support. The quality reviews carried out by the Education Bureau assists the teachers to invest their energy and time in professional development as a way of promoting sustainable school improvement. For example, local non-profit making schools starting 2012-2013 will be able to redeem the education voucher if they are able to meet the prescribed standards of the Quality Review framework (Education Department, 2007).
The requirements specified in the Education ordinance (Cap 279) ensures that teachers’ professional development can occur when they meet the set educational standards. The first batch pf 130 Quality Review planned visits began in the 2007-2008 school year (Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, 2008b) and an increase in ratio of graduate teachers in 2008/2009 has raised the professional standards and status of the teachers.
The Quality Review Framework promotes transparency and accountability in schools which promotes a culture that is good for professional development of teachers. The Hong Kong government is committed and dedicated to the improvements made in education and the professional development of teachers. The development and implementation of the Pre-school Education Voucher Scheme in Hong Kong is one of the ways through which the government has managed to improve the quality of education and to promote professional development in teachers and principals.
High quality education at the pre-school level can be attributed to the pre-school education voucher scheme, classroom inspection and quality reviews in schools. In conclusion, the pre-school education voucher scheme has been promoted through the 2007/08 school year Training Activity, Teacher Development plan for 2008/09 school year, Four-year Teacher Development plan and the professional upgrading of Kindergarten principals and teachers.