Hong Kong public schools struggle to get funding for lifts
Poll by education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen shows 40 out of 48 institutions had applied but failed to obtain government grant
As ambulance workers struggled to carry a sick pupil six floors down a narrow flight of 60-year-old stairs, principal Roger Wong Chung-fu wished for the umpteenth time that his application for a lift had been granted.
But Hui Chung Sing Memorial School, which has waited 10 years for the facility, is not the only institution in the queue. A total of 40 public schools, some with disabled pupils enrolled, have been denied a lift after submitting applications to the Education Bureau.
Of these, 17 schools were rejected more than five times, according to a survey carried out by education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen.
In September, Ip sent questionnaires to 119 public schools operating without a lift, according to a list published by the bureau in 2012. Of the 48 schools that replied, 40 had made an application but failed to obtain a grant from the government.
Four of these schools had admitted between one and nine disabled pupils for the 2016/17 year.
“Over the past 10 years, the bureau kept telling us they didn’t have enough resources,” Wong said.
Nine of the schools that took part in the poll received the same explanation. Eleven others said they were not given any reason.
Ip said the bureau had rejected some schools as they had not admitted any disabled pupils. But Wong argued that apart from those with disabilities, pupils who were sick or injured, pregnant teachers, elderly parents as well as staff moving heavy furniture and lunchboxes could also benefit.
“The Education Bureau might contravene the Disability Discrimination Ordinance if it continues to slight the schools’ needs of making their campuses accessible to pupils and staff with disabilities and other special needs,” Ip warned.
According to the ordinance’s Code of Practice on Education, schools are responsible for providing an accessible environment to persons with a disability unless there is unjustifiable hardship.
“If schools have been trying to get funding from the Education Bureau to overcome their ‘unjustifiable hardship’ in paying for the lifts, the bureau can be legally liable for dragging the approvals,” said Chung Yiu-kwong, lawyer and vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union.
According to the Education Bureau, the number of applications for lifts increased from 49 in the year 2012/13 to 67 in 2017/18, while the number of approvals fell from eight to five.
In the year 2017/18, five schools were granted HK$101.7 million for building a lift, with each costing HK$20.3 million on average.
The bureau said applications from schools with a larger number of disabled pupils would be prioritised.
“The bureau can only promise to make at least five approvals every year because building a lift is rather complicated and expensive,” a spokeswoman said.
Since April 2010, the bureau has granted HK$606 million to 46 aided schools to build lifts.