25 per class? That's 40 more schools, says Michael Suen
Hong Kong will need to hire 3,000 extra teachers and build 40 schools to implement small-class teaching in all primary schools, the education secretary said yesterday.
Michael Suen Ming-yeung said more than HK$1 billion would be added to the education budget if all schools had just 25 pupils in a class.
He also opened the door for the first time to a gradual reduction of class sizes in secondary schools but ruled out small-class teaching 'within the next six years'.
Mr Suen said the Education Bureau would introduce regulations to limit the maximum size of classes at primary schools beginning in 2009 to coincide with the introduction of the new policy, including in schools that did not adopt the small-class model.
'If we have accepted the concept of small-class teaching as being the way forward, then we should not accept schools running very large classes,' he said.
The bureau has no upper limit on the size of classes, but fire regulations stipulate that schools cannot have more than 45 pupils in a classroom.
Mr Suen said the bureau would negotiate with the schools sector an upper limit 'somewhere between 30 and 40', which would be announced by next September.
He admitted that some parents might object to reducing class sizes in the most popular schools, as it would reduce their chances of securing a place, but he said this was no reason not to go ahead with the move.
'We should not have a fixed mindset that there are elite schools and other schools are just rubbish... The aim is to improve the quality of education in all schools.'
But he declined to say when it would be possible to cut class sizes in all schools, as there would be a shortage of classrooms in some school districts.
The introduction of small-class teaching in 'suitable' primary schools from September 2009 was one of a number of education commitments announced in the policy address on Wednesday.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen also pledged to extend the nine years of free education to include senior secondary schooling or vocational training for Form Three school-leavers, starting next September. Yesterday, Mr Tsang clarified that the government did not intend to make it compulsory for pupils to undergo the extra years of free schooling.
Democratic Party lawmaker and deputy chairman of the Legislative Council education panel Yeung Sum said it was time to start reducing the number of students in secondary school classes.
'The average secondary school class has about 38 students now. If we bring that down by two each year, we will be almost down to 25 in six years by the time the small-class students move up from primary school.'