Teach them a lesson

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2001, 12:00am

The sudden closure of private tuition schools in financial difficulties or schools that are run by unscrupulous operators is such a familiar part of life in Hong Kong that the only surprising thing about it is why the authorities have taken so long to act.

The cash-strapped Sun Institute of Technology and Matriculation shut its three branches on Wednesday, bringing education to a sudden halt for more than 200 students. If the Government is serious about plans to improve the education system, it should take steps to sort out the mess.

A school is not the same as a retail business. Apart from losing valuable time and money, students short-changed by schools offering substandard courses or not running promised programmes could have their study plans or careers seriously disrupted.

Ironically, the victims of these failures are individuals paying to do what the Government urges, and go on to higher education. They are the people the SAR needs to fulfil its economic goals. Yet, official safeguards to protect them when they enrol in private schools are woefully lacking.

Sudden private-school closures would be less likely to arise if intensive background checks were carried out on their backers and if they had to give a bond as proof of financial viability for at least one term - preferably one year - ahead.

The bond could be used to compensate students if the school failed or if it offered unregistered courses. Clearly, some action is called for to stop the exploitation of students.

The Government cannot be held accountable for private schools which operate illicitly, but the law should be far more severe on those that deliberately make false claims and cheat their clients.

The usual fine of $10,000 is not adequate punishment for deliberately disrupting young lives. Perhaps if the next serious offender faces the maximum $100,000 fine, it will send a message to any others planning similar scams.