As the government prepares to phase out many village classes, a top education official suggests a solution Village schools should regroup into larger, centralised organisations in the New Territories and outlying islands, legislator Cheung Man-kwong said yesterday after the government stood firm on its decision to phase out schools with too few pupils. At a meeting between education officials and nearly 60 representatives of village schools and parents, organised by the Heung Yee Kuk yesterday, Mr Cheung called on the village schools to consider his proposal. However, he condemned the government for ignoring the fact that these schools could offer smaller classes and pay more individual attention to students than urban schools. In April, the Education and Manpower Bureau ordered 55 primary schools, including 34 village schools, to stop offering Primary One classes this September after it increased the minimum admission quota from 16 to 23 to save money. The affected schools are expected to close in about three years as a result. Village schools argued that the policy was unfair to them because their admission took place all year round, while the bureau only looked at their enrolment rate up to March. But their appeals have been fruitless so far. 'I believe that setting up a centralised village school in each of the districts that require more school places is a way out for the village schools,' said Mr Cheung, who also heads the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union. 'The centralised schools can retain the strength of rural education as well as many of the teachers of the village schools. Parents who favour rural over urban schools can also be given a choice.' He called on the Heung Yee Kuk to take the lead in turning the village schools into district-based centralised schools and said he would discuss the matter with legislator Lau Wong-fat, the head of the kuk. He added that much of the land on which schools were built was donated by villagers decades ago, and he urged the government to return the land to them. 'The village groups or Heung Yee Kuk can then use the money collected by renting out, building facilities on or selling the lands to set up a fund to improve the resources of the centralised schools,' he said. Chan Kwai-sang, an executive member of the kuk and a supervisor of one of the village schools to be phased out in Sai Kung, supported Mr Cheung's proposal. 'It is a big waste of resources to close our school as the government just spent a few million dollars on refurbishing it two years ago,' he said. 'Education cannot be seen as a business. The government has to pay attention to our unique role and parents' needs.' Cheng Yan-chee, the deputy secretary for education and manpower, said he would consider Mr Cheung's proposal but stressed that the bureau's admission policy did not discriminate against village schools as it targeted any school that was 'under-enrolled'.