ESF parents revolt over proposed Shenzhen trip

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 September, 2010, 12:00am

An English Schools Foundation primary school is facing a revolt by parents angry and worried about plans to send 120 of their children on a four-day field trip to Shenzhen.

The nine- and 10-year-olds at Clearwater Bay School had expected to go on an Outward Bound adventure course in Sai Kung for their final year's school camp in November as other pupils have for years.

Instead, the camp was switched without consultation to the border city for a trip principal David Fitzgerald told parents would provide 'authentic opportunities for students to utilise their growing Chinese skills'.

Parents will pay around HK$3,500 per pupil for the Shenzhen trip, which is scheduled to include visits to local restaurants, a day visit to the China Folk Culture Village, trips to a museum and art gallery, kite flying and tai chi.

Since the trip was announced this month, Fitzgerald has been bombarded with e-mails from parents, with one mother pointing out the recent spate of school attacks on the mainland and saying Shenzhen is 'notorious for crime [and] poor hygiene and general safety'.

The mother said her daughter and other classmates had been looking forward to Outward Bound for years as they worked their way through the primary school. 'They don't want to go to Shenzhen,' she said.

Another mother messaged Fitzgerald to say she was against the trip for 'a myriad reasons' including the high accident rates on Shenzhen roads and wrote: 'It seems the risks far outweigh the benefits.'

A Chinese mother at the school - where around half the pupils are local and the remainder expatriate - said the language argument for the trip was invalid as most people in Shenzhen speak Cantonese and not Mandarin.

So many parents have objected to the Shenzhen trip that the school has agreed to review the plan and has called a meeting with parents on September 21, when a revised programme is expected to be presented.

Feelings among parents are running so high that one father is understood to have made his own reservation for 120 children at Outward Bound on the dates of the school field trip in the hope that the school will reverse its decision.

Another father wrote in an e-mail to the principal: 'I am uncomfortable with the idea of my daughter travelling across the border for a visit that appears to offer none of the benefits of Outward Bound and so many real and potential negatives.

'If my daughter were to get sick at a school camp, I would be reassured to know that she was in Hong Kong rather than inaccessible to me in mainland China.'

Fitzgerald said he had received feedback from around 40 per cent of parents and said the 'vast majority' were opposed to the Shenzhen trip.

Fitzgerald said the reaction from parents had come as a surprise. 'As a result we have stopped and listened and we are reviewing the decision to see what other possibilities there are.

'Obviously there are a large number of parents who are not happy with the decision but we are a school that listens to parents ... We will put together a programme that meets everyone's needs.' He declined to give details, saying parents would be informed first.

Explaining the idea behind the Shenzhen visit, Fitzgerald said the school wanted to introduce a 'broader, more balanced residential programme' and support its Putonghua teaching which was an important part of the syllabus.

'I think any opportunity for the children to use the second language they are learning at school is invaluable,' he said. 'Fifty per cent of our children don't have a native Mandarin speaker at home so any opportunity they get to use Mandarin in an authentic context is invaluable.'