All 451 secondary schools in Hong Kong have joined forces to appeal to the education authorities to freeze the number of classes and reduce their size to cope with problems caused by a shrinking pupil population.
The call was made in an open letter to Secretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin on Thursday by the Joint Committee of the Secondary School Councils and the Secondary School Heads Association of 18 Districts.
The groups, which represent all the secondary schools in the city, said that although the pupil population in Hong Kong had experienced an “incessant and significant drop”, the government was yet to introduce measures to cope with the situation.
“It can be foreseen that this will be a big blow to the education ecology. Besides directly affecting the stability of the development of education in Hong Kong, it will eventually have an impact on the students,” they wrote.
The Post earlier reported that more than 30,000 pupils withdrew from Hong Kong schools between October 2020 and last September amid a wave of emigration.
About 15,000 pupils left secondary schools, 10,000 left the primary sector and 5,000 pupils were taken out of kindergartens.
School managers attributed the decline in the schools population to falling birth rates and the withdrawal of pupils because of the emigration trend.
The Education Bureau revealed earlier that the number of 12-year-olds in Secondary One was expected to drop by about 5 per cent – from 63,100 to 60,100 – between 2022 and 2029.
The committee suggested the government freeze the number of classes in the present academic year for all secondary schools, which would mean no reduction in the number of classes.
They also called on the government to lower the number of pupils allocated to each Secondary One class based on the rate of the drop in student population in different districts.
Schools with one class of fewer than 26 pupils in Secondary One will risk closure under the existing policy. The government decides on the number of classes for each school by checking the number of pupils they have every September.
A spokeswoman for the education bureau said temporarily maintaining the status quo would not solve the structural drop in the student population, adding that it understood the sector’s concern on the surplus in school places and would maintain close communications with them.
Lin Chun-pong, the committee secretary and also a secondary school head teacher, declined to give a specific number on how many children should be allocated to each class, but highlighted discrepancies in class size policy.
“What I want to point out is the government is now allocating 25 students to each class in Primary One, but the bureau is allocating 31 students to each class in Secondary One,” he said.
But Choi dismissed the idea of a freeze on the number of Secondary One classes at an earlier media briefing.
She said it was an “old suggestion” that would not tackle the “new problem” as the present decline in the pupil population was structural and the previous drop was transient.
Choi also ruled out the implementation of small-class teaching in secondary schools because of its lower effectiveness in comparison to primary schools.
She said the bureau would not let secondary schools with “just more than a dozen students” survive for the sake of ensuring teenagers had enough choices in terms of elective subjects when they reached senior forms.