Unless pollution is having a more devastating effect on the health of Hong Kong people than suspected, it is hard to accept the idea that the standard of students is getting poorer. Studies in the West have shown that lead poisoning from exhaust fumes has an adverse effect on children's intelligence, and Hong Kong has more than its share of toxic traffic fumes. But that does not explain a sudden, dramatic nine per cent increase in the number of youngsters who have had to repeat a class since last year. There must be other reasons why 25,000 primary and secondary students cannot progress to the next grade because their academic performance is too low. Today's young generation is better-nourished, better clad and more informed than ever before. It is not possible that they are less intelligent. If they are failing to respond to lessons in such numbers, it is essential that the Education Department takes a close look at the phenomenon to establish the real causes. Every possible avenue needs to be investigated, including teaching methods, the quality of teachers, the ethos of individual schools and the examination process. When classroom performance lags behind accepted norms, there is a tendency to assume that the blame lies with the pupils, but this can sometimes miss the point. It is unlikely that one solitary factor will be identified as the culprit. An influx of mainland children must have some impact on statistics, but as far as local pupils are concerned, causes may be more difficult to establish. Many of today's children spend a lot of time unsupervised. Both parents work, and in the age of telecommunications, too many children spend too much of their time watching poor-quality pap on television, or glued to the computer compulsively playing electronic games. A study last year revealed that Hong Kong parents spend an average of 30 minutes a day with their children. Working mothers may give more of their energy to the running of the home, but a high proportion of that will be taken up with chores. They may not set aside enough time to help children with homework, or monitor their academic progress. The usual rate of repeat students is five per cent, but increasing that percentage is no answer. Teachers have to seek out the root of the problem, and do whatever is necessary to improve their own performance and their pupils' response to their lessons. Children made to repeat a grade a second year will feel inadequate and foolish, and are likely to feel bored going over the same ground. The side effects could be multifarious. There has to be a better solution than that.