Nearly 70 per cent of Hong Kong kindergartens have said parents refused to pay tuition fees after classes were suspended for more than a month because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to the city's biggest teachers' union.
The survey results, released on Tuesday by the 100,000-strong Professional Teachers' Union (PTU), also found more than 40 per cent of kindergartens predicted they could face serious financial issues if the situation continued, with some warning of the possibility of closures.
Classes have been suspended at all kindergartens, primary and secondary schools in the city since the Lunar New Year holiday ended on February 3 and the Education Bureau last week announced a further extension meaning classes will not resume until March 16 at the earliest.
If parents eventually still refuse to pay tuition fees, there's not much we can doIvy Leung, kindergarten principal
The poll, conducted between last Friday and Monday, collected responses from 238 kindergarten principals " out of a total of 884 local kindergartens in the city " of which 203 kindergartens need to collect tuition fees from parents.
Some 133 of the kindergartens which collect fees " about 65 per cent " also said pupils were being withdrawn from the schools.
Ivy Leung Sau-ting, a kindergarten principal and member of the PTU's executive committee, said many kindergartens, especially private ones and those which run pre-nursery classes that do not receive government subsidies, were struggling to maintain daily operations when paying teachers' salaries and rent.
"If parents eventually still refuse to pay tuition fees, there's not much we can do," she said.
The government announced a HK$25 billion package last week with a financial subsidy promised to kindergartens, but the sum was unspecified. The Education Bureau would also be providing a special subsidy to kindergartens to help with cleaning costs.
Last week, the pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers also warned of operating difficulties at kindergartens, as more than half of the parents refused to pay tuition fees in full.
Nancy Lam Chui-ling, a kindergarten principal and vice-chairwoman of the 35,000-member federation, said the group had been following up on the issue with the bureau as she predicted up to 200 private kindergartens faced closure.
The Education Bureau said in a reply that it understood the challenges faced by kindergartens and would look into ways to assist them. It added that it had not received any requests from kindergartens seeking help over financial difficulties.
Meanwhile, hundreds of education and tutorial centres are also facing financial difficulties caused by the hiatus.
The newly-established Education Centres Union, which claims to represent more than 900 education and tutorial centres in Hong Kong, on Tuesday staged a petition outside Tamar demanding monetary help.
Group spokesman Trevor So Tik-hei said many from the sector, which has about 8,000 centres employing about 100,000 staff, found it unfair that they did not receive any financial assistance from the government.
"The government's (HK$25 billion) fund has provided financial assistance to many other sectors, such as retail, catering, service and tourism industries, but they've left out only us," he said.
Noriko Serada, 57, administrative director of a ballet school in Causeway Bay which has operated for about three years with more than 100 pupils, said the school had been hit hard over the past few weeks and might face closure if the situation continued.
"Our school was closed in February and (probably will be for) the whole of March, with a loss of more than HK$100,000 in tuition fees … If (the school) continues to receive no revenue, paying rent and employees' salaries may be a problem," Serada said.
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