Pupils 'need more help to join after-school activities'
Children from a disadvantaged background still have only limited access to extra-curricular activities, despite the government's vow to usher in an equal learning environment, says an education concern group.
After studying 16 poor families for a year, the Alliance for Children Development Rights has concluded that student subsidies lag behind in helping these youngsters take part in after-school activities.
The Student Financial Assistance Agency provides needy children with financial support in commuting, textbook purchases and internet access.
'Without government subsidies, parents at the grass-roots level can hardly spare any money to send their kids to after-school activities,' alliance social worker Lam Man-wa said. 'Most of them barely make ends meet.'
The Education Bureau says that primary and secondary school pupils - whose families receive Comprehensive Social Security Assistance and a full grant under the Student Financial Assistance Scheme - are entitled to participate in a school-based after-school learning and support programme.
In the 2011-12 academic year, 871 primary and secondary schools participated in the scheme, and about 228,000 students benefited.
Individual participating schools are given HK$400 for each eligible student every year.
'When we compare the figure with the total number of grass-roots children in the city, it's obviously still far from enough,' Lam said. 'The amount of money is too small as well.'
According to the Society for Community Organisation, about 300,000 local children live in poverty. Some underprivileged students rely on charities to help them join extracurricular activities.
But Lam said this depended on the organisations' budgets and there was no guarantee of continuity.
The alliance said the piano lessons of a 13-year-old Primary Six girl were a case in point.
'Last month, I got sponsorship from a charity organisation that pays three-quarters of my [monthly] piano class fees,' the girl said.
'But I am worried whether I can continue my lessons when the subsidy expires in five months.'
The girl started learning piano on the mainland, but stopped for two-and-a-half years after moving to Hong Kong in 2009.
She lives with her family in a rooftop flat in a walk-up building in Sham Shui Po, with her father earning HK$12,000 a month. She has had a full grant from the school textbook assistance scheme for 18 months.
Alliance member Kung Wai-sum said that without comprehensive and continual financial support, it would be extremely difficult for children to develop their talents.
The alliance says the new government should review the subsidy regime, supporting students financially to participate in extra-curricular activities.
Lam added: 'The policies should be updated to meet students' needs.'