Rural schools challenge ban on Primary One enrolments

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 September, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 September, 2003, 12:00am

They maintain there is no official recognition of their special needs and circumstances

Rural schools that have been ordered to phase out urged the government to respond to public needs after some parents defied warnings against sending children to the schools this week.

Sam Wo Public School in Lowu, one of the affected schools, said nine Primary One pupils showed up on Monday with the hope that they would be admitted. All but two were turned away.

'We obey the government's order not to run Primary One classes. But the two pupils had studied Primary One before and we decided to enrol them in Primary Two,' said Kong Kwai-po, a senior teacher at the school.

Lok Lai-fong, principal of Yuen Long Small Traders New Village Public School, also placed five Primary One pupils in its Primary Two class this week. The group includes local students, as well as those from the mainland and South Asia. The school said the pupils could be taught separately from their classmates because of its small class size. Both schools said the cases indicated that rural schools were playing a unique role and should not be phased out.

They said they would continue their campaign to allow them to receive Primary One applications this year, although the government had already given a definite 'no'.

The schools were among the 50 ordered to drop their Primary One classes this year as their applications fell below the arbitrary admission quota of 23. They were also among the six rural schools that claimed to have reached the required quota, but only after the government's March deadline had passed.

Ms Kong said it was unfair to impose an application deadline on her school, as 80 per cent of her students were from the mainland and could not apply to the school before they received permission to cross the border. 'We never have an application deadline because it is up to the mainland authority to decide when the students can come,' she said.

The EMB said it noted about 10 Primary One pupils being admitted to Primary Two classes in a small number of rural schools in Yuen Long, Tuen Mun and North District this week. But it admitted that the number did not cover students who did not apply for Primary One places through the central allocation process.

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, Secretary for Education and Manpower, was reported this week to have urged rural schools not to 'keep their rice bowls' by hampering students' learning. Despite his comments, many rural schools said that the inspectors 'said nothing' when they were admitting Primary One pupils.

A spokesman for the EMB said that education officials were sent to inspect the schools with Primary One pupils in their Primary Two class to closely monitor the situation. 'If we find that the type of education is not suitable for the children, we will strongly advise the parents to consider switching them to other schools,' he said, adding that the EMB was worried more similar cases would arise.

Some parents living across the border also complained that their children were sent to schools which were either too far away from home or had no school bus services.

Shenzhen resident Peter Leung, who followed government's advice to switch his six-year-old daughter from Sam Wo to another primary school in Sheung Shui, said that he and his son had to wake up at 6am every day to travel for more than an hour to the Lowu station. His son returned home after 6pm and could not sleep until midnight because of the huge amount of homework. 'We would not have to wake up so early if my son studied in Sam Wo, which runs school buses to pick up students within Shenzhen every morning and takes them all the way to the school,' he said.

Leung Shiu-keung, chief school development officer of the North District, said the EMB could also arrange pick-up services for the children.

Pun Tin-chi, vice-president of Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, said parents' defiance indicated that rural education could cater for children who need more individual attention, especially those from the mainland or South Asia. 'Our union does not think it is educationally desirable for the government to phase out rural schools,' he said.