Shek O school casts doubt on closures list

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 June, 2007, 12:00am

Government figures on the number of school closures over the past four years submitted to the Legislative Council last month fail to paint the complete picture and in what one legislator has described as a 'crazy situation', officials 'do not have a list' of the total number of vacant school buildings.

The Education and Manpower Bureau provided a district-by-district breakdown of 54 primary schools that have closed under the school consolidation policy since it was introduced in 2003 for a Legco education panel discussion on the 'Disposal and use of vacant premises' on March 14.

The figures included 15 schools due to close in the coming academic year.

However, Education Post has found at least one village school that closed in 2004 - Shek O Man Sun School - was not included in the statistics, which state that no schools were closed in the Southern district.

The list also does not include the HK$80 million 'ghost' school in Tin Shui Wai, which was left unused on completion last September after a school sponsoring body decided to merge the morning and afternoon sessions of CCC Fong Yun Wah Primary School on their original site rather than split them into two campuses.

An EMB spokesman said the two schools had not been included as they had not been closed under the consolidation policy but he was unable to confirm how many other schools premises had been closed or left empty during the past four years for other reasons.

'On schools closing down for reasons other than the consolidation policy, it will not be meaningful for EMB to go back to history and trace the list of such premises,' he said.

'Individual school premises may become vacant for various reasons ... As for the Man Sun School premises in Shek O, the school had been closing due to low enrolment before the implementation of the consolidation policy.'

The vacant school in Tin Shui Wai did not count as it was a newly-built school that had never been occupied. It is currently being renovated for conversion into a secondary school.

Under the consolidation policy, schools which are unable to enrol a minimum of 23 Primary One students are ordered to cease admissions and are expected to close within three to four years.

The birthrate in Hong Kong has been falling since the mid-'90s, sparking a dramatic decline in primary school enrolments.

Legislators called on the EMB to release the full figures.

'It would be better to have a list of all the schools that have closed, not just those closed due to a certain policy,' said Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier.

'The problem is that if they don't keep a record then they don't have to give you the information. I don't like this policy. This is crazy. You could say the situation is out of control.'

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, leader of the Civic Party, said she could not understand why the bureau was unable to provide the complete details.

'If the schools were all along under the EMB, surely they should know which have closed,' she said.

It was a 'clear wastage of public resources' for school premises to be left vacant when they could be used for other purposes, she added, regardless of the reason for the closure.

Cheung Man-kwong, the Democrats' education spokesman, sought transparency.

'I have always believed that the figures given to us by the EMB would be accurate. If more schools have closed than they told us did, then I would find that very surprising,' he said.

'The EMB ought to give an explanation to Legco. This matter cannot be dealt with chaotically.'