Education minister in push to rescue secondary schools as students decline

Education minister unveils relief measures designed to ride out ‘temporary drop’ in secondary student enrolments

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2012, 3:34am

Education chiefs expect fewer than five secondary schools to close this year after the introduction of relief measures to cope with a sharp drop in student numbers.

The minimum class size for Form One has been cut from 30 to 25 after student enrolments fell by more than 5,000 continuing a trend that has seen the tally plunge by 22,000 since 2006-07.

But education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim, announcing the measures, said this was "merely a transitional situation".

Numbers are expected to rise steadily from 2017-18, boosted by children born in Hong Kong to mainland mothers. There had been fears that as many as 100 schools would be closed in the next four years because they failed to reach the government threshold of 51 enrolments - reduced this year from 61.

Elaborating on Ng's announcement, education officials said class sizes could in fact fall as low as 17 because a school that exceeds the number to fill its classes to capacity by as little as one student will be allowed to open another. This means that a school with 51 students - one more than needed to fill two classes - will be allowed to open another and distribute the students among the three, leaving each class with 17.

The number of children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents rose to 33,000 in 2010 and to 35,000 last year - up from 16,000 in 2006 - after which the government imposed new rules at borders and hospitals.

If all the children born to mainlanders in the city go on to be educated locally, 120,000 children born between 2006 and 2010 may come back for primary education in the next five years.

Ng also announced that all schools operating two Form One classes could still participate in the central allocation system, which usually excludes those with fewer than three.

He said the department would also "actively explore" an early retirement scheme to help prevent an excessive number of redundant teachers.

But an Education Department spokeswoman said this was not a dire concern because the relief measures were designed to ride out the population drop.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said he would be worried about a hidden agenda if schools were allowed to continue to run below the class-size limit.

"The government might force some to merge and others to come up with new plans to turn into a school with a special purpose," he said.

"That would be very complicated and difficult, but might not be useful in helping schools to overcome the decreasing student number."