Pupils face tough battle for fewer English-medium places
Elaine Yau and Ng Kang-chung
Primary school leavers will face a harder fight this year for Form One places at public or subvented schools which offer English-medium teaching, partly a result of the government's controversial class-cutting scheme.
There will be about 6,000 Form One places on offer at government or government-aided English-medium schools in September, almost a third fewer than about 8,500 last year.
The toughest competition will be in Sai Kung, where on average almost 40 children will vie for each place.
Sha Tin district has the most English-medium places with 819, followed by Kowloon City with 616 and Kwun Tong with 557. There are no government or subvented English places in Islands district, but pupils can look for places in other districts.
Those whose families can afford it can also try private schools or those under the direct-subsidy scheme.
Apart from Sai Kung, competition will be keen in Yuen Long, with 17 pupils on average for each place, Southern with just over 15 and North at 14.
In districts where there are more elite English-medium schools, such as Kowloon City and Wan Chai, the number will range from 5.5 to 9.4.
The numbers are based on information made available by the Education Bureau yesterday, when this year's central allocation for Form One places began. Parents will have to complete forms and return them to their children's primary schools for submission to the Education Bureau by May 5.
Cheung Yung-pong, of the Subsidised Primary Schools Council, said the competition for English school places would be more intense partly because a number of English-medium schools had pledged to cut their Form One classes from five to four.
'The class-cutting policy will have an impact,' he said, referring to a controversial government policy to press secondary schools to cut one Form One class each so that some schools that cannot attract enough students can survive.
About 200 secondary schools, including 70 English-medium schools, joined the scheme, prompted by a falling birth rate.
Liu Ah-chuen, chairman of the Subsidised Secondary Schools Council, said pupils would still have a chance for an English-medium education in spite of the drastic drop in English places, citing the controversial 'fine-tuning' policy.
'Since the introduction of the fine-tuning policy last year, many schools offer flexible classes in which there is a certain amount of English teaching, so students can still have a chance to learn in English,' Liu said.
Facing pressure from parents, the government in effect abandoned its mother-tongue education policy last year with the introduction of 'fine-tuning'. It allows some Chinesemedium schools to adopt a mixed approach instead of sticking with mother-tongue education.
Meanwhile, the Education Bureau backed down yesterday in its dispute with textbook publishers over the so-called debundling of textbooks and reference materials for teachers. The bureau agreed to offer funding for schools to buy teaching materials, according to publishers after they met officials yesterday.
It was also agreed that the 'debundling' - separation of teaching materials from schoolbooks - would be carried out for all textbooks released this year. Michael Ng Chi-wah, general manager of Excellence Publication, said after the meeting that the bureau had agreed to a further meeting to discuss details and pricing of the teaching materials.
Public and aided schools will offer almost a third fewer Form One places
Competition will be toughest in Sai Kung, where on average almost this many children will vie for each place: 40