Hong Kong schools

Cross-border pupils see less intense Hong Kong primary school competition near mainland China

Fewer applications received from mainland parents this year after Shenzhen relaxed its admission policies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 2:28pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 November, 2017, 10:43pm

Competition for a seat at Hong Kong’s primary schools located near the mainland eased slightly this year after Shenzhen relaxed admission policies for cross-border pupils.

School principals said they were receiving fewer applications from mainland parents, with some worried about what might happen if the declining numbers continue as expected in the coming years.

Their concerns came as the neighbouring city Shenzhen announced in April that it would allow children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents to apply to Shenzhen public primary schools, even if they lacked a Chinese household registration.

Between 2001 and 2012, over 202,000 such children were born. Many of them travel across the border to attend Hong Kong’s public primary schools, as mainland public schools could not admit them previously.

Wong Wing-keung, principal of the Wai Chow Public School in Sheung Shui near the Shenzhen border, described competition this year as “still fierce” but said the applicant number was expected to be “much lower next year”.

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The number of applicants for the school this year dropped to 183 from 222 last year, Wong said. Over a third of the pupils are cross-border children.

This is the last year in which a large number of children born in Hong Kong to mainland parents would compete for primary school places, as the government began in 2013 prohibiting hospitals from taking in mainland women to give birth.

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Wong Wing-keung, principal in Sheung Shui

At Fung Kai No 1 Primary School, also in Sheung Shui, applicant figures dipped to around 110 from 147 last year, principal Li Shuk-yin said. More than half of the school’s pupils were born to mainland parents.

“Every school in the district will be affected if student numbers drop sharply next year,” Li said. “The school’s development will be harmed if the number of schoolteachers is cut.”

Yet some parents still could not obtain a place in the first round of admission, where students whose siblings attend a school or parents work there are given priority.

Education Bureau statistics revealed 42.2 per cent of the 58,965 applicants citywide had secured a place in the first round of Primary One allocation, up from 41.5 per cent last year. The number of children given priority because of their siblings or parents accounted for 59 per cent of the total admission rate, up from 54 per cent last year.

A mainland mother who only gave her surname as Li said she would still like her Hong Kong-born daughter to attend schools in the city despite the policy change.

“She is in fact a Hong Kong person, and I want her to be able to speak, think, and do things like a Hongkonger,” Li said.

Her daughter did not gain admission to Fung Kai No 1 Primary School, and she planned to apply to other schools through the second-round admission, also known as the central allocation system.

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In Hong Kong’s education system, schools admit half of their first-year classes in the first-round admission, or the discretionary allocation, and parents are allowed to apply for schools in all districts. The central allocation system, however, only admits pupils who live in a school’s district.

“There is nothing we can do because there are so many kids competing for school places this year,” said Cao Shufeng, whose daughter did not manage to secure a place at Wai Chow Public School, which took in 79 pupils in the first-round admission.

Cao, who lives near the school, moved to Hong Kong more than a decade ago. Her daughter was born in Hong Kong.

She said she would try “door knocking”, or submitting last-minute applications after the second-round admission.

Watch: why Hong Kong and mainland China are scoring poorly on cross-border schooling