• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 12:57pm
Lamma ferry disaster
NewsHong Kong

Swimming lesson lottery 'must end'

Forcing children to wear life jackets on ferries is not the best solution, says lifeguards' union chief - teach them basic water skills instead

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 October, 2012, 3:49am

Government-subsidised swimming lessons are so in demand that applicants not only need to win a lottery for a class space, but must also enter a ballot for a place on the waiting list.

The crisis could be eased if swimming lessons were a higher priority in schools, said Alex Kwok Siu-kit, general secretary of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards' Union.

Kwok said the ferry collision off Lamma and the recent tragic drowning of two teenagers at Shek O demonstrated that swimming lessons should be as important as classroom studies.

"I'm not discriminating against our nation, but our culture is so conservative and the government doesn't care about sports training," he said at the Tai Wai public pool where he works as a lifeguard.

"Many parents protect their children from outdoor activities, such as swimming and hiking."

This meant Hongkongers often lacked basic water skills, he said. Kwok added that a proposal by marine officials to force children to wear lifejackets on ferries was not the smartest way to protect young passengers.

"Instead, teach them how to swim," he said, noting that in some cases wearing a lifejacket can hinder a passenger's escape from a sinking ship. Giving children and adults basic water skills, such as being able to swim at least 100 metres, may mean fewer people drown, he said.

Kwok said if he had been on the doomed ferry with his family, he would have worried more for his wife than his children - she cannot swim while his two teenagers learned when they were three years old.

A lifeguard since the age of 16 years old, Kwok also called on the government to increase the number of subsidised classes as the cost of private lessons was beyond many families.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department's swim programme began in 2000 and costs HK$100 at public pools in the New Territories and HK$108 in urban areas for 10 one-hour lessons. One lesson at a private swim school can cost upwards of HK$200.

The LCSD is planning to increase swimming courses by seven per cent this year.

Swimming is not a compulsory part of the curriculum and the Education Bureau does not keep a record of which schools offer such lessons.

Kwok estimated that just one in five Hongkongers knew how to swim. "It should be higher than that. We are a rich city and surrounded by water.

"We should be better."


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This article is now closed to comments

Learning how to swim isn't only for safety, it can also help the swimmer benefit in health.
It would be common sense for people in HK to learn how to swim, since we are surrounded by water.
I'm amazed by this. A city that is surrounded by water should put a very strong emphasis on teaching its citizens how to swim. Compulsory classes as a part of the elementary school curriculum would make the most sense to me.
Government should make entry to swimming pools free of charge for children under age 18. i am sure there will be many freelance volunteer to teach them free of charge. i have been few times to Kowloon park swimming park and always found someone willing to help me to learn swimming.
That is correct. HKner spend much money on additional classes and education like piano lessons to show off but put less or no priority for life saving education and sports. You might find it more important that your offsprings can play Piano like Lang Lang but in the water best piano skills won't help them. Swimming lessons should be considered as a survival training and basic swimming skills as life saver. HK is surrounded by much water and the sea. It is very astounding that so many people here of all ages are not able to swim. But not only the people should change their way of thinking. Also the government has to change this as HK in fact has much resources to introduce compulsory and free swimming classes at schools. In many other countries in primary schools swimming is taught and compulsary. I do not understand why HK with alot of coastline, a maritine city, hasn't considered this before.
100% agree with your view. In a place surrounded by water swimming classes at schools should be an integral part of the curriculum. Like it is in other places around the world.
100% Agree. Teach you kid to swim is more important than all those other certificates they get from Playgroups, etc.
I totally agreed with Alex,, swimming lessons are to save life,,,piano lessons are to save face...whats more important daddies and mummies ??
Was this guy quoted correctly ? The main reason your child should wear a life vest on a pleasure boat is if they are incapacitated before or after accidentally falling into the water, or get sucked down into deep waters. To portray a life vest as something that will kill you is as incredible as claiming that a seat belt in a car will kill you. If this man has not been misquoted, he should be kept away from teaching children water "safety".
Wearing life jackets outside, on deck, makes perfect sense. Wearing them inside will reduce your chance to get out safely considerably, once water starts to enter.
Life jackets take up lots of space when inflated and may hinder you to pass through doors and/or between the seat rows. That's why the safety videos on airplanes and the SkyShuttle tell you to not inflate the jackets inside the aircraft.



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