Cross-border pupils ventured beyond the New Territories to primary school for the first time yesterday - with many of the six-year-olds arriving late despite having left their homes about three hours beforehand.
Thirty-one of the 45 cross-border pupils starting at Baptist Rainbow Primary School in Wong Tai Sin turned up more than half an hour late.
And many of them were yawning as they stepped off the school buses at about 9.10am - after setting off from home at about 6am. The school day starts at 8.25am and the final bell rings about 4-1/2 hours later, at 1pm.
Huang Xuan's six-year-old daughter was among those who spent 51/2 hours on the road - an hour longer than she spent at school. She left home at 6.15am to catch the school bus from Shenzhen Bay and did not get home until 3.30pm.
"She looked really tired when she came back," said Huang. "She likes to take a walk or play in the evenings, but today she said she didn't want to do anything as soon as she got home."
Rainbow is the first and only school outside the New Territories assigned for cross-border pupils, after a new policy was introduced last year to relieve the pressure on the New Territories' North District, the closest district to the northern border.
The students were born in Hong Kong and have the right to be educated here, whereas they do not qualify for free education on the mainland.
Under the policy, six other districts within the New Territories also had to set aside places in the central primary school allocation system to help cater for the estimated 4,000 cross-border pupils. It meant many other children yesterday were travelling to areas far from the border, like Tung Chung.
Education minister Eddie Ng Hak-kim said the government would monitor the effectiveness of the policy.
Rainbow principal Chu Tsz-wing said there would be no penalties for the children who arrived late and said the first day began with an assembly, so no important lessons had been missed.
The school is currently developing a smartphone app enabling parents to track their children en route to school.
For some parents, the new term has meant a move to Hong Kong to avoid a long commute for their children.
Li Ping and her six-year-old son are staying with a friend in the Choi Hung Estate, a 10-minute drive from Rainbow school. She said she was looking to rent a flat nearby, while her husband would remain in Guangzhou.
Xie Ruiling, the driver of one of the two cross-border school buses bound for Rainbow school, said it was normal for children to be late on the first day because of extra traffic at the start of the new term. She said traffic flow would get better after about a week as things settled down.