Minister attacked over cross-border pupils
The education minister has come under fire over a five-fold increase in three years in the number of students in North District who have been allocated places in other districts as more Hong Kong-born mainland children enrol in the area's schools.
Legislators told Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung yesterday that parents had been complaining for some time of the difficulty of having to send their children to schools in other districts, yet the government failed to anticipate the problem even though the number of mainland women giving birth in Hong Kong had been rising for years.
Suen replied that the exact figures were difficult to forecast.
'The number has been increasing exponentially,' he said. 'We've been working on building more classrooms for schools in the district.'
The percentage of North District pupils in Primary One allocated places in schools in other districts has risen from 26 in 2009 to 145 this year, accounting for 1.2 per cent and 6.6 per cent respectively of all applicants in the district, according to Education Bureau figures.
In the school year starting this September, about 1,400 of the 3,600 Primary One places in North District have been allocated to children not living in Hong Kong, up from about 1,000 last year. Another 210 cross-border pupils have been allocated to schools outside North District for the new school year, according to government figures.
Gary Chan Hak-kan, a legislator for New Territories East constituency, which includes North District, said children should be given priority to attend schools in their home districts. He asked Suen whether the government would stop enrolling students whose parents were not Hongkongers, just as Hong Kong hospitals will next year stop admitting pregnant mainland women about to give birth if their husbands were not Hongkongers.
Suen said it was more difficult to make distinctions for the students. 'Some have addresses in Shenzhen, but others have Hong Kong addresses. But they are all permanent Hong Kong residents,' he said.
The government had been working to increase primary school places in North District by allocating two more pupils to each Primary One class at 26 schools, Suen said. Additional classrooms were being built in four primary schools in the district, which were expected to be completed next year or in 2014. But the government would not rush to build new schools as the student population may fall in future, he said.
Legislator Wong Sing-chi, however, said the government was irresponsible and incapable of handling a matter that it should have foreseen.
Suen said mainlanders who gave birth to children in Hong Kong had been asked whether their children would stay in Hong Kong, but such surveys were usually inaccurate.
Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung announced last Wednesday that Hong Kong school places allocated to cross-border students next year would be capped at 13,000.
Meanwhile, a private member's bill submitted by Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung to amend the Immigration Ordinance was formally rejected by the Security Bureau yesterday. He has written to the government to dispute the decision.
North District Primary One pupils allocated to other districts this year, up from only 26 having to travel away in 2009