Fight for primary school places forces some Discovery Bay pupils to head offshore

Those who did not get spot in popular school in upmarket Hong Kong residential district either assigned to one in Peng Chau island, or are looking beyond to Tung Chung or international schools

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 September, 2016, 1:59am

Most people go island-hopping for their holidays, but this will be a grinding daily routine for six-year-old Edgar as he began his primary school education yesterday on Peng Chau, an island close to the thriving residential community of Discovery Bay where he lives.

“I immediately cried when I knew that my child was assigned to go to school in Peng Chau. I couldn’t imagine how our family could make this arrangement,” Nikki Bouteiller, Edgar’s mother, said as she took him and his friend Renz de Mesa on board an old-school style kaito ferry to attend their first day of school on Thursday morning.

Edgar’s situation highlights the problem of keen competition between parents fighting for places for their children at Discovery Bay’s Sheng Kung Hui (SKH) Wei Lun Primary School. This forced some children who live in the area to travel further to the only other government subsidised primary school in the same school net for primary education – Holy Family School in Peng Chau.

Holy Family School confirmed seven children, including Edgar, who live in Discovery Bay were assigned by the government’s central allocation to attend Primary 1 in the school this year while Bouteiller said she knows altogether nine children who were assigned. The figure has largely grown from just one Discovery Bay student last year being distributed by the system to the Peng Chau school.

Safety on the kaito ferry is another concern, she said. Although the safety jackets on board meet government regulations, they would not be enough, considering the number of children who take the ferry during peak hours.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, the 88,584 children born in 2010 – who would be primary school-going age this year – is the highest in a decade. The live birth numbers in the city continued to rise to 95,451 and 91,558 in 2011 and 2012 respectively. Bouteiller suggested the rise in competition for school places this year is likely a result of the baby boom in those three years which also correspond to the Year of the Tiger, Dragon and Rabbit in the Chinese zodiac – deemed a lucky time to be born.

“SKH Wei Lun school is now a top choice for parents living not only in Discovery Bay and Peng Chau but also in Tung Chung, because [it] falls into the Central and Western District school net for the secondary school places allocation, which means their children have a greater chance to get into elite schools,” Bouteiller told the South China Morning Post.

She said only Edgar and Renz ended up going to the Holy Family School because other parents who failed to get a place for their children at SKH Wei Lun school have either looked for an international school or would rather send their children to Tung Chung.

The kaito ferry ride from Discovery Bay to Peng Chau takes around 12 minutes and walking uphill to the school from the pier would take another 10 minutes.

“The commuting time does not seem long but the entire travelling time does. There’s only one ferry available every hour and I have to take my child to school, travel back home, go and pick him up and wait for another ferry to get home. But I still have my two younger daughters to take care of and my husband works full time. This travelling method would be impossible for working parents,” Bouteiller, who is now doing freelance work for a social enterprise, said.

Holy Family School principal Ng Lai-Ying questioned whether the Education Bureau has done enough to help the pupils and her school as it had rejected her call to review the categorisation of her school in the secondary school admission system for more than five years. “It is a question of fairness ,” Ng said, “the school (in Discovery Bay) should be treated the same as the ones in other outlying islands in the Secondary School Places Allocation System.”