Cross-border class conundrum

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 3:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 3:40am

What is more frustrating than not being able to get a school place for one's children? With competition intensifying in recent years, parents can be excused for feeling helpless. Increasingly, what used to be a basic right has become difficult to secure. The tension is further fuelled by an influx of the Hong Kong-born children of mainland parents. It is hardly a joke when some lucky parents compare the allocation of school places to winning a lottery.

The latest bad news is that increasing pressure from cross-border children may have reduced the chances of success for children seeking admission to primary schools in North district. Only 42 per cent of 52,500 applicants were offered a place in a citywide allocation exercise based on a points system. The success rate was the lowest in 16 years.

It would be wrong, however, to limit school places to locals only. Like it or not, some 170,000 children of mainland parents have gained right of abode here through birth, thanks to the Basic Law and the top court's ruling in 2001 upholding the right. The children have the same right to go to school as any other local-born, but they are often mistakenly labelled "non-locals". Instead of shutting them out, we should try to accommodate them, both inside and outside the city.

Authorities on both sides are to be commended for adopting some out-of-the-box solutions to ease the shortage. In a breakthrough, the two governments signed a deal that gives cross-border children the option of studying in seven designated mainland schools operating like Hong Kong ones. They are also eligible to move up to local secondary schools in future. It is a right step forward to address the problem.

With some 16,000 pupils crossing the border for schooling each day, the 1,000-plus places available in Shenzhen are a drop in the ocean. It also depends on parents' preferences. Some have already said they still prefer local schools, hoping their children can better integrate into society at an early stage. The lack of government subsidies also makes the mainland schools more expensive, and less attractive, than local ones.

The government has banned women not married to locals from giving birth here. But the demand for schooling is still expected to rise in coming years. The two governments should expand their experiment and make it more attractive by cutting costs, while exploring more options to meet the challenge.