When persistent problems defy conventional solutions, it might be time to think outside the box. Easy as this sounds, innovative thinking often remains an alien concept for bureaucrats, who are notorious for their inertia in taking on challenges. Even when they have the will to address a tough issue, a preference for precedents over innovation means they often tiptoe around until the problem gets out of hand.
Schooling for cross-border students is a case in point. It is good to hear that the Ministry of Education is aware of the situation and will study the option of allowing Hong Kong to set up government schools in Shenzhen to meet the demand.
For years, thousands have crossed the border for school each day. They include children of Hongkongers living on the mainland, as well as those who have gained the right of abode here by birth. Some of the children can barely walk, but are carrying heavy school bags back and forth. The latest estimate is that some 16,000 pupils make their way to study in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools here each day.
The phenomenon did not seem to bother officials until recently, when an influx of mainland children with the right of abode stirred up controversy. They took away school places in districts near the border, forcing local pupils to travel outside their home district each day.
A Shenzhen school teaching a Hong Kong curriculum is no doubt an innovative solution. Instead of building more schools here, why not save them the travelling time? Two private schools for Hong Kong children living across the border are already operating. If our government can build schools on the mainland that are no different from those here, perhaps mainland parents may think twice whether it is necessary to send their Hong Kong-born children to study here.
The proposal is still at the preliminary stage. But the reply from the ministry is a welcome step forward. It clears the way for authorities on both sides to further explore the way ahead.
"One country, two systems" is sometimes misunderstood as an obstacle to tackling problems outside the city. But as cross-border integration intensifies, the government can no longer turn a blind eye to the needs of Hongkongers living nearby. Extending welfare payments to elderly living in Guangdong is an example. Schooling for cross-border students is another issue that should be tackled with out-of-the-box thinking.