Avoid schools panic with better tracking of mainland babies: expert

Scramble for preschool places could be avoided with better data on mainland kids born in HK

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 8:59am

A population specialist has called for a comprehensive tracking study of babies born in Hong Kong to mainland parents so that schools can prepare to meet their education needs.

Paul Yip Siu-fai said a lack of data on how many such children would come to Hong Kong to study had caused panic among local parents as long queues formed for registration at northern kindergartens.

"Parents don't need to panic. The government's rough projection might have overestimated those who will return for education," Yip said after assisting in a South China Morning Post study that found a surplus of kindergarten places in some districts for next year. The districts included the North, Tuen Mun, Yuen Long and Tai Po districts, where mainland children were most likely to seek places.

But Yip, a professor in the University of Hong Kong's department of social work and social administration, warned that without accurate data, the panic could spread to primary schools later.

Based on surveys conducted from 2007 to 2011, the government projected last year that 95 per cent of mainland parents would leave Hong Kong with their babies, but half of the children would return before the age of 21, without specifying when.

Calculations by the Post found that probably less than 4 per cent of kindergarten-age children had returned so far, leaving open the question of when or if the rest would come and whether the city's education, medical and housing systems could cope.

A total of 142,240 babies were born in Hong Kong to mainland parents from 2007 to 2011, and if the 95 per cent projection is correct, 135,128 have left the city.

Education Bureau figures show that only 6,049 cross-border kindergarten pupils had been recorded since 2010, making up only 4.4 per cent of the babies who left the city.

But this figure also includes children whose mother or father is a Hong Kong resident and those who emigrated to the mainland with their Hong Kong parents.

While the government said it did not know how many of the cross-border students were born to mainland parents, these children are likely to return to the city for education as they are not entitled to the benefits of a mainland citizen.

Yip said the Hong Kong-born babies with mainland parents were "undervalued".

"Let's imagine how many schools would need to close down if the 7,454 babies of mainland parents did not return last year. Local parents would have fewer choices," Yip said.

More than 6,700 cross-border pupils were admitted to local primary schools last year.

North District Heads Association chairman Chan Siu-hung said it was impossible for the schools to ask which children were born to mainland parents because of privacy issues.

"But with [accurate] data, we can prepare for each year's curriculum and resources."

Education sector legislator Ip Kin-yuen criticised the government's poor data collection. "We have lost lots of opportunities to prevent these problems from happening," he said.