150-plus schools sign up to reduce classes
More than 150 secondary schools have agreed to cut their number of Form One classes, with King's College in Sai Ying Pun the latest to sign up after long deliberations last night.
Tam Koon-che, chairman of the school's management committee, said reducing class numbers could improve the quality of teaching. It was the only one of the 15 government schools still holding out against joining the scheme ahead of today's deadline.
'We understand some stakeholders object to reducing class numbers, but other schools also face similar problems,' said Tam. '[If] they can overcome such problems, I believe we also can.'
But the decision was criticised by paediatrician Dr Cheng Man-yung, the alumni representative on the school board. 'We don't have to join just because others do,' he said.
Elite schools like Kowloon Wah Yan College have also agreed to join the government scheme in spite of strong opposition from alumni.
Districts hardest hit by falling student numbers but holding out against the scheme relented in the week leading up to the deadline for applications.
But the heads of secondary school associations said a further crisis would be delayed by only two years and called for small-class teaching as a long-term solution.
Six of the nine Wong Tai Sin schools that offer five classes agreed to join the scheme yesterday.
Ho Sai-man, former chairman of the Association of Heads of Secondary Schools for Wong Tai Sin District, said joining the scheme could enhance the quality of teaching.
The scheme aims to share the problem of falling pupil rolls by encouraging schools to reduce their number of Form One classes from five to four. Students originally assigned to schools running five classes would go to those with too few students. The Education Bureau has offered an extra annual subsidy of HK$250,000 for five years to participating schools.
The deadline for joining the second round of the scheme was extended from November to today after only 23 schools signed up for the first round in April.
In spite of strong opposition from alumni, Wah Yan College will reduce Form One intake from 180 to 144 pupils in September. The principal, the Reverend Stephen Chow, said alumni objected to the scheme due to their love for their alma mater.
'They want our education to benefit as many students as possible ... but a temporary reduction in student intake can improve the quality of our education as teachers can [provide] better personal care under less pressure,' he said.
Of those areas hardest-hit by the falling rolls, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun were among the districts where previous holdouts have pledged to join the scheme.
Twenty-seven of the 29 schools that offer five classes in Yuen Long have agreed to join.
Teddy Tang Chun-keung, president of the Association of Heads of Secondary Schools for Yuen Long District, said the two remaining holdouts - Yuen Long Lutheran Secondary School and Yuen Long Merchants Association Secondary School - were traditional elite English-medium schools.
There are 400 secondary schools in the city, more than half of which offer five classes. Education Bureau figures show that the Form One student population will reach a low point in 2016-17, when only 53,900 pupils join, a 20 per cent drop from the 69,000 students who joined Form One this academic year.
Hong Kong Subsidised Secondary Schools Council chairman Liu Ah-chuen said the loss of 150 classes accounted for only 5,000 places, not enough to offset a fall in student numbers of 15,000 by 2016.
'While there won't be any school closures for the forthcoming two years, the government needs to thrash out other proposals to solve the problem of falling rolls in the long term,' he said.
Permanent Secretary for Education Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching said the voluntary class reduction scheme could stabilise the secondary sector for two to three years.
'We still need to study long-term solutions [to the problem],' she said.
The principal of a traditional English-medium school in Sha Tin said four English-medium schools there would make a decision today. But Baptist Lui Ming Choi Secondary School in Sha Tin would not join, principal Cheng Cho-chak said.
Just 53,900 pupils are expected to join Form One in 2016, a reduction on this year of: 20%