Hong Kong schools woo cross-border pupils in battle to survive
Falling birth rates putting heads under pressure, but distance proving a deterrent for parents
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Hong Kong schools worried that falling pupil numbers will force them to close are courting children across the border in a bid to avoid the axe.
The move comes despite the children facing an hours-long commute to and from school each day - something that puts off many parents.
Schools in North district, where commuting is easier, have little trouble filling their classrooms and even struggle to accommodate pupils from nearby Shenzhen.
But with Hong Kong's low birth rate leading to falling enrolments, those elsewhere without enough pupils face closure.
Yesterday schools in old urban areas further south such as Pokfulam and Chai Wan - at the far western and eastern ends of Hong Kong Island - were chasing potential entrants in Shenzhen. The schools are among more than 20 Hong Kong kindergartens, primary and secondary schools attending a three-day exhibition in the border city this weekend to promote themselves to parents with Hong Kong-born children living on the mainland.
The fall in pupil numbers will affect secondary schools the most in the next few years.
"We are here mainly to do publicity and promotion work," said Anna Hung Wing-chee, headmistress of Caritas Chai Wan Marden Foundation Secondary School.
Schools in Pokfulam, Chai Wan, Tseung Kwan O and Sham Shui Po are taking part in the event, at Shenzhen's Luohu railway station, for the first time this year.
"Of course we'd welcome [cross-border pupils]. It would help our enrolment numbers," Hung said.
The school, in Eastern district, has no cross-border pupils at present, but half of its pupils are recent mainland migrants.
Hung said the school would be willing to provide school bus services and even weekend classes in Shenzhen.
Tsang Kwok-yung, headmaster of the Yan Chai Hospital Lan Chi Pat Memorial Secondary School in Tseung Kwan O, said: "We are willing to provide more support for cross-border pupils."
His school - around 90 minutes from the border - currently has no cross-border students. Kwok said that, as distance was a problem, he was attending the exhibition in an attempt to connect with potential immigrants who may move to Hong Kong in the coming years.
"Schools across Hong Kong are having problems getting enough student enrolment," said Tsang. "This is something we will continually need to deal with."
However, parents seemed reluctant to enrol their children in schools far from the border.
One mother said Mong Kok was the farthest she was prepared to go. Another, who wants her 12-year-old son to attend a secondary school in Hong Kong teaching in English next year, said she preferred schools within five MTR stops of the border.
"If the school was quite far away, I'd consider renting an apartment nearby," she said.
About 20,000 cross-border pupils - children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents or from local families currently living on the mainland - currently cross the border every day to attend the city's public schools.