Six rural schools fight to stay open

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 August, 2003, 12:00am

They say they meet the quota for pupils, but education officials won't budge


Six rural primary schools that have been ordered not to accept any new pupils are staging a last-ditch fight for survival with less than a month to go before the start of the new school year.


The schools, which serve large numbers of families from the mainland and South Asia, claim they have enrolled more students than the government's minimum requirement for justifying the running of Primary One classes.


The schools have also blamed the government for neglecting the needs of the minorities.


In April, the Education and Manpower Bureau increased the quota for Primary One classes from 16 to 23 to save money. It ordered 55 primary schools - 34 of them in rural areas - to stop offering Primary One classes. So in three years' time the schools will have to close when their last pupils move on.


The bureau based its decision on the number of applications for Primary One classes received by the end of March. A bureau spokesman said that deadline was firm and will be used each year.


But the six schools, all in Yuen Long, say they admit pupils throughout the year. The number of applicants for Primary One reached or surpassed 23 in April.


Kong Kwai-po, a senior teacher at Sam Wo Public School, said bureau officials were 'very arrogant' when she and several of the students' parents met them for talks last month.


'The education officials closed their ears to our reasoning. They refused to communicate with us and failed to see society's needs,' she said.


'I hope the new financial chief, Henry Tang Ying-yen, will see how much damage cutting education spending and axing schools can do to Hong Kong.'


Her school says its Primary One class has 24 applicants, largely from children living with their mothers in Shenzhen and Guangdong, but with right of abode in Hong Kong.


It argues that rural schools, with their smaller class sizes, provide a better education for mainland and South Asian students than urban schools.


To help in their fight, the schools have enlisted Cheung Man-kwong, the legislator representing the education sector, and Lau Wong-fat, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk.


Mr Cheung said he was confident a solution might yet be found. 'The six schools have more than enough students to run a Primary One class. So I believe there is still room for negotiations with the bureau,' he said.


One option under consideration, he said, was for rural schools to join forces to form centralised, district-based schools. Heung Yee Kuk supported the idea and would be submitting a proposal to the government, he said.


The bureau spokesman said the government would ensure every mainland and South Asian student was given a place in a school close to where they lived.


polly.hui@scmp.com