Public schools may give families in Hong Kong priority

Education chief says giving preference to families in Hong Kong is one of the options being considered amid mounting competition for places

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 7:33am

Admissions priority for local families is among measures being considered in response to pressure on public school places from Hong Kong-born children living on the mainland.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim revealed the possible option yesterday but gave no timeframe - despite the long queues of families seeking Primary One admissions in the past weekend.

He said thorough consideration must be given before privileges are handed out to anyone, and policies must be fair to all.

"We have clearly heard the opinions from parents of North District about prioritised allocation [for local families]," Ng said yesterday when asked about the issue. "The Primary One Admission Committee will give a fair assessment."

Ng said tender processes had begun for expansion of several schools in the Sheung Shui area.

The pressure is especially acute on public schools in Sheung Shui, where there is an estimated shortage of 1,000 Primary One places because of its proximity to Shenzhen.

The demand for school places is coming from local families, Hong Kong families living across the border and children born to mainland families - with the latter amounting to some 200,000 in the past few years.

Ng told a radio programme last night that he thought more than 40 per cent of children born to mainland families could return to Hong Kong for education.

Priority has already been given to local people at public hospital maternity wards amid warnings that the strain put on public resources by mainlanders could stir tension between Hong Kong and Beijing.

North District Primary School Heads Association chairman Chan Siu-hung said yesterday that giving priority to local families was unfair to those residing in Shenzhen, who are also eligible for education in the special administrative region.

North District councillor Lau Kwok-fan said the opposite, saying it was fair and not at all discriminatory to give lower standing to families who had chosen not to live in Hong Kong.

He added that even if prioritisation could not be adopted this year, with the allocation exercise already started, it could be done next year.

After years of falling student numbers, Hong Kong this year saw an increase of 4,000 children eligible for primary education, to about 50,000.

Many of the families living on the mainland prefer to send their children to one of some 30 primary schools in Sheung Shui because of their proximity to the border points of Huanggang and Lo Wu, making a one-day return trip possible.

While there is no overall shortage of public school places in Hong Kong, the current centralised allocation system allows parents to apply for schools outside the districts they live in, causing a concentration of students in some districts and under-enrolment in others.