Worst over for school closures, says bureau

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 March, 2006, 12:00am

An end may be in sight to plummeting primary school admissions and the closure of primary schools, according to figures released by the Education and Manpower Bureau last night.

About 51,100 pupils will enter government and aided primary schools in September, 2,200 more than last year, the first increase since birth rates began to fall a decade ago.

'The most difficult time has passed,' a spokeswoman for the bureau said. 'The situation is very stable in terms of population projection over the coming three to four years.'

However, nine schools are facing closure after failing to attract the minimum of 23 pupils required for a Primary One class, and they will be expected to close in about four years.

Education groups have warned that the overall figures conceal a continuing localised problem in districts with lower birth rates, and have called on the government to be more lenient on schools that do not reach the quota. The president of the Professional Teachers' Union, lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong, said the threat of school closures had created job insecurity for teachers.

'Although the number of schools that failed to meet the target has dropped, this is still a source of anxiety for many, many schools,' Mr Cheung said.

'The numbers do seem to be stabilising in general, but in certain areas the student population is still dropping.'

The union is organising a mass meeting of teachers in Hunghom today to call for a reduction in teacher stress. One of the union's demands is for the government to end its policy of school closures.

Shin Kei-lit, chairman of the Sha Tin Primary School Heads' Association, said the situation remained a cause for concern in his district, one of the hardest hit by school closures.

'Of the nine schools that have been ordered to close, four or five of them are in Sha Tin,' Mr Shin said. 'Next year's enrolment will be even worse.'