Hong Kong educators warn of mass exodus as 15,000 students left the city over the last year

  • A wave of emigration after the national security law prompts calls for more resources and the option of using foreign curriculums
  • Many families are leaving for Britain, and Covid-19 border closures mean mainland Chinese students cannot attend school in Hong Kong

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Sights of people leaving at the Hong Kong International Airport have been commonplace as of late. Photo: SCMP/ Dickson Lee

Educators in Hong Kong have warned of an exodus of students as part of a wave of emigration following the introduction of the national security law, as the latest official data showed more than 15,000 students quit school over the last year.

In order to cope with the shift in local demand for education, authorities should reallocate resources, improve standards and help schools suffering from a high dropout rate to allow smaller classes and the option of running more foreign curriculum programmes, they said on Monday.

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Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung pledged officials would address the issue.

“Hong Kong is a free society,” Yeung said. “Of course there are people leaving Hong Kong. They are free to make these choices. In terms of the changes in the number of students, we’ve been staying in contact with schools ... If the changes are long-term and structural, we will think of long-term solutions.”

Yeung said the Education Bureau would have a better grasp of the situation after the city’s borders reopen when the Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control and the new school year begins in September.

More students are leaving HK since the passage of the national security law.

According to the bureau’s latest data, 690,965 students were enrolled in primary and secondary schools as of October last year, down by more than 15,000 from 706,422 registered in 2019.

A number of students who live in mainland China but study in Hong Kong have been affected by the travel restrictions and the months of suspended in-class learning.

Some educators warned the exodus of students could be more severe than thought, noting the report failed to reflect the latest wave of migration, especially to Britain.

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“Many families have only started to leave Hong Kong this summer, so the latest report has failed to reflect the real situation,” said Principal Dion Chen, chairman of the Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council. “They want to leave as they feel uncertain about Hong Kong’s future.”

Principal Kelvin Yau Siu-hung, chairman of the New Territories School Heads Association, agreed, saying more students and their families are likely to leave for other countries as immigration channels open further.

They urged the bureau to introduce flexible policies to assist schools suffering from a high dropout rate.

More families are looking at moving and studying abroad after the passage of the national security law. Photo: SCMP/ Nora Tam

“I don’t want to see schools being forced to shut down because of low student intake rates,” Chen said.

“The government could start to make long-term plans. There are many ways to rescue schools and retain students, such as allowing schools to open more foreign curriculum programmes so students can have more choices.”

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Fung Wai-wah, president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, agreed, saying the authorities should reallocate resources to increase the number of small classes in both primary and secondary schools and improve the teacher-student ratio.

“The government should face the reality and stop evading the issue,” Fung said.