Hong Kong: Private Education and Care for All Children?
The field of ECEC has been under major reconstruction in Hong Kong since its historical transition from a British colony to a special administrative region of China in 1997. Differing somewhat from the focus in the British colonial era, education is considered to be the key to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s (HKSAR) future development in the global economy in the twenty-first century (Hong Kong Education Commission, 1999; Mok & Chan, 2002). The notion of “life-long learning” is deployed to lay the foundation for a series of major reconstructions of the education system in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Education Commission, 1999, 2000). As noted by Chan and Chan, the government reports helped to acknowledge the field of early childhood education as “the foundation for life-long learning” (2003, p. 8).
In the context of these shifting understandings, early childhood education is moving away from being the “Cinderella of the education system” during the British colonial period (Opper, 1993, p. 88) to “the foundation for life-long learning” at the turn of the twenty- first century (Chan & Chan, 2003, p. 8). Contemporary education reforms have had a profound influence on the landscape of preprimary education in Hong Kong (Rao, 2005). Historically speaking, all ECEC programs in the preprimary education sector are private. Since the British colonial period, the lack of public funding for preprimary education has constructed the field of ECEC as a “market” without much government regulation. Education and care for young children in Hong Kong have been thought of as private matters of individual families’ choices. However, at the turn of the twenty-first century, one of the most important and notable impacts on the development of the ECEC as a preprimary sector in the education system is the change in the HKSAR government’s role in pursuing quality early childhood education (Rao & Li, 2009).
Becoming actively involved in regulating ECEC, the HKSAR government has taken on several major policies and initiatives that focus on “building a new culture for quality early childhood education” (Hong Kong Education Commission, 2000, p. 49; italics added). Among the multiple series of reforms, we highlight the policy of the Preprimary Education Voucher Scheme (PEVS) in Hong Kong as a unique example that reflects and echoes the global circulation of neoliberal logic, while creating interesting and significant ruptures in the field of early childhood education.