$1.37b wasted on too many schools

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 November, 2002, 12:00am

SCMP, November 21, 2002

By Ng Kang-chung

Taxpayers are being asked to foot a $1.37 billion bill for the building of 18 primary schools which are not needed, because of poor planning by the Education Department, the Audit Commission has found.

Coupled with a declining birth rate, the commission projected an over-supply of 27,600 primary school places by 2010, equivalent to leaving 35 schools idle.

The commission recommended merging schools with too many vacant classrooms, closing village schools, and hiring more staff on contract terms.

In a rare move, Director of Audit Dominic Chan Yin-tat looked at primary education in his latest value-for-money report.

The report criticised the Education Department for going ahead with plans to build new primary schools in districts - including Wan Chai, Kowloon City, and Tuen Mun - where there is already an over-supply.

The commission said 69 new schools are planned, of which 22 were not needed. Work on 18 of the 22 is planned to start next year. Mr Chan estimated $1.37 billion could be saved by putting the construction work on hold.

The Audit Commission report also found that of the 326 whole-day primary schools in the 2001-02 school year, 106, or 33 per cent, had vacant classrooms. Thirty - mostly in Sha Tin, Tuen Mun and Kwai Tsing - had seven or more vacant classrooms each.

'The location of many schools is close to each other ? classroom utilisation could be improved by merging and phasing out schools in close proximity with many vacant classrooms,' the report said.

The commission also recommended closing rural schools, citing one in Shataukok which is only a 10-minute walk from a primary school.

The government has a target of introducing full whole-day primary teaching by the end of the 2007-2008 school year. But Secretary for Education and Manpower Arthur Li Kwok-cheung suggested in September that financial constraints may prevent the target from being met.

The commission asked the department to close government schools 'that will become surplus to requirements' and hire more contract staff at government schools.

In a statement last night, the department said: 'We are now reviewing our policy on government schools ? we will consider the possibility of merging smaller government schools and phasing out schools with low enrolment.'

Democrat Cheung Man-kwong, who represents the teaching profession in the legislature, said: 'Education should not be merely looked at from the money viewpoint. We should take advantage of the excessive supply of school places to reduce class sizes.'

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union said that the government should make use of the extra schools to fully implement whole-day schooling in the SAR and reduce class sizes. It said more than 100,000 parents had signed the union's signature campaign to call for smaller classes.

*Also see editorial review on page 8

*For more information on the topic, read the main news section of the SCMP


foot the bill (phrase) to pay for something, especially when it is considered large or unreasonable

idle (adj) not being used

put on hold (idiom) to delay doing something

phase out (phrasal v) to gradually stop using something

merely (adv) only, simply

implement (v) to carry out (a plan)

Discussion points

- It is suggested that the government reduce class sizes and implement full-day schooling earlier to make good use of the vacant classrooms in primary schools. Do you support this idea?

- How many students are there in your class?

- Do you prefer smaller classes? Give your reasons.

There are more topics for discussion on page 8.

*E-mail: ypost@scmp.com