Secondary pressure in small-class campaign

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2008, 12:00am

Teachers want a cap on 38 students per lesson

Secondary school heads are pushing the government to reduce class sizes by at least two, a move to rescue schools from threat of closure due to falling student numbers and ease the implementation of curriculum reforms.

In a meeting with the Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung this week, seven secondary school representatives called for class sizes to be capped at 38 instead of the current 40 and to slash the minimum class size from 35 to 28 or 25.

Some of the associations also urged the schools chief to introduce an even lower cap in districts where the drop in student numbers is expected to be the greatest.

The calls came ahead of Monday's deadline for application of discretionary secondary places.

Michael Wong Wai-yu, chairman of Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools, said the ongoing education reform could not be carried out with large class sizes.

'The reformed senior secondary education system and the traditional chalk and talk are two different worlds,' Mr Wong said. 'There is no way for the reform to be carried out successfully in a classroom with 40 students.'

The new senior secondary curriculum - part of the so-called '3+3+4' reform - is due to be implemented for Form Four students in September 2009, replacing the exams at Form Five and Form Seven with a single school-leavers' diploma at Form Six.

Mr Wong said the reform and decreasing student numbers had provided a perfect time to address the issue of overpopulated classrooms in Hong Kong.

'We are not just after small-class teaching or to save schools from closure,' he said.

'We are here to urge the government to look into the class sizes problem as a whole.'

However, he said school heads in various districts had different opinions on the optimum class sizes.

'We are suggesting a range of 32 to 36, but the maximum students per class should not be more than 38,' Mr Wong said. He added that even if the government would not adjust the maximum student number by this coming September, it was not too late to adjust the minimum class size of 35.

According to the Education Bureau, there were 78,700 Form One students in September 2006 and 77,200 last year.

A bureau spokesman said the latest figure was not yet available, but this year's Form One intake was expected to drop further.

Most students entering Form One in September were born in 1996. The number of children born to local parents that year fell to 60,300, down 5,400 on the previous year and 9,000 on 1994, marking the first major drop in a decade-long decline. The local birthrate hit a low of 45,000 in 2004.

Secondary schools in Sha Tin, Tai Po and Tuen Mun are under the greatest threat of closure due to an anticipated severe drop in student numbers.

Stephen Lai Nai-pang, chairman of Sha Tin District Secondary School Heads' Association, said the Form One intake for Sha Tin was expected to drop by about 1,000 this year.

Kwok Wing-keung, chairman of the Association of Secondary School Heads, Tai Po District, said the suggestion to reduce two students per class was 'better than nothing', but he hoped it could be lower.

The final results of this year's Secondary School Places Allocation System are expected to be released on July 8.

After the meeting with secondary school councils, a spokesman from the Education Bureau said it 'would not be desirable' to adjust the number of students allocated to Form One classes this September as the allocation exercise for 2008 had already started.

However, he said the bureau would announce short or mid-term relief for secondary schools in a few months' time. It would review the number of students per Form One class, the enrolment cap and look at the scope to make adjustments.

Student loss

Dramatically falling enrolments could empty secondary schools

The maximum amount of students in one class at the moment is 40. Teachers are calling for this to change to, at most: 38