Hong Kong schools were forced to cut more than 40 Form One classes this academic year, a 20 per cent increase compared with the previous one, due to a shrinking student population, renewing calls to open enrolment to pupils in mainland China and Southeast Asian countries.
According to a report published on Tuesday by the Committee on Home-School Co-operation, 46 Form One classes at secondary schools were axed in the 2022-23 academic year, compared with 38 in the previous year.
Twelve additional classes were added this year for reasons such as a higher number of students in some areas or a school’s growing popularity.
The net decrease in the number of Form One classes this year is 34.
Form One students this year were born in 2010, when nearly 89,000 births were registered, a record high since 1967. But the student population has decreased in recent years because of an overall drop in the birth rate, an emigration wave, and the absence of mainland students as they could not come to the city because of travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A spokeswoman for the Education Bureau said an estimated 50,600 Primary Six students had joined the secondary school allocation system as of last month, about 100 fewer than the previous year. She added that education authorities would maintain close communication with schools to plan early for any challenges brought by the decline in the number of students.
Tang Fei, a secondary school principal and a lawmaker, said many of the 89,000 students born in 2010 had parents from the mainland who later opted to let their children pursue their studies there instead.
He added he expected the situation at schools to become more serious over the next two academic years as the student population would continue to drop, urging the bureau to open local school enrolment to students on the mainland and in Southeast Asian countries.
“If the number of students in fundamental education is insufficient, it will finally affect tertiary education. The bureau should seriously consider opening up our schools to other regions and how to attract students to come here,” he said.
Sha Tin saw the largest reduction in classes, with a Form One class being cut at 11 schools, while one was also axed across six schools in Yuen Long. In Tuen Mun, three schools only have two such classes remaining after one class was slashed.
According to government policy, secondary schools should secure at least two Form One classes, or a total of 26 students, to continue to operate, or submit proposals to the bureau on how they plan to survive.
Two schools in Kwai Tsing have only two Form One classes left, while the Southern district, Eastern district, Wan Chai, Sai Kung, Yuen Long and Kowloon City each have a school that offers only two Form One classes.
Last year, two secondary schools in the Eastern district, which is an ageing area in the city, were told to submit survival proposals as they did not have enough students. Both schools failed to get approval to continue operating.
One has decided to close, and the other is planning to apply to join the government’s direct subsidy scheme to become a semi- private school.
This year, all secondary schools have managed to secure at least two classes.