An influx of mainland schoolchildren with the right of abode became controversial last year because they took scarce school places in areas near the border, forcing local pupils to travel to schools outside their home district each day. Now the situation is reversed, with many Hong Kong-born children of mainland parents, and children of Hong Kong parents resident on the mainland, being forced to commute for an hour or more to schools in Tuen Mun, Tin Shui Wai, Tung Chung and Wong Tai Sin.
This is a result of government policy aimed at using the allocation system to ease cross-border pressure on North District schools. The number of Shenzhen children who failed to win places in their top three schools of choice hit 33.6 per cent this year, causing consternation among some mainland parents who found their children would be going to schools they had never heard of. This distributes the burden of travel more evenly, but a more lasting solution is called for.
For years, thousands of children have crossed the border for a Hong Kong kindergarten, primary or secondary education. Some rise absurdly early and some of tender years carry heavy schoolbags back and forth. The government has now tapped schools in eight catchment areas to provide 3,000-odd places for cross-border children, relieving the burden on North District. The situation remains unsatisfactory from both sides.
The mainland Ministry of Education has been looking into the option of Hong Kong setting up government schools in Shenzhen. It faces two problems of perception that have foiled previous attempts to provide schools in Shenzhen with Hong Kong teachers and curriculum. Parents are not convinced that it is the same as a Hong Kong education. And local teachers remain reluctant to go to Shenzhen to work. While there is always room to reform and fine-tune the student allocation system, the best idea is for the city to work with the mainland to provide the right environment for educationists to set up Hong Kong schools in Shenzhen.