7,000 leave school amid emigration wave

Top News | Sophie Hui 26 Jul 2021

Around 7,000 students left primary and secondary schools in the eight months to June, which the education sector described as a rare occurrence triggered by the emigration wave.

The 2,000 secondary and 5,000 primary students represented 1 percent and 1.83 percent of the overall student population in Hong Kong, according to Education Bureau statistics.

In mid-October last year, government and aided primary schools offered a total of 300,521 places, but only 293,323 students enrolled. This meant 7,198 vacant places.

But the latest data showed a total of 12,587 by end of last month - or 5,389 more than October - as each public primary school lost 11.8 students on average.

Public secondary schools provided 297,610 places last October for a student population of 257,673.

But the vacancies rose from 39,937 to 42,547 at the end of June or 2,610 more than October, meaning each public secondary school lost 6.6 students on average.

Primary One and Secondary Six are the worst hit, with vacancies of 3,149 and 11,511 respectively by the end of last month.

It is understood that some schools have difficulty in placing students in classes due to the drop in population.

Some elite schools under the direct subsidy scheme, such as Diocesan Boys' School, have been placing recruitment ads since May.

The government earlier projected that the population of 12-year-olds in Hong Kong would increase in the 2021-22 school year to 66,300, from 64,100 in 2020-21 and 55,800 in 2019-20. But the president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, Fung Wai-wah, said the emigration surge created uncertainties in secondary school population projections.

Fung urged the Education Bureau to address the problem of shrinking classes before the new academic year starts in September. He said the bureau needs to have an overall consideration in supply of teaching manpower as many teachers have also emigrated.

"The number of places in teacher training [courses] was decided based on the population in the past, which could create an oversupply in the long term as there will be many fresh graduates," Fung said. "But schools may have difficulties hiring teachers in the short term, especially if they want to find experienced ones."

Fung said the city faces a brain drain with many teachers and other professionals emigrating.

Wong Kwan-yu, head of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, believed the loss of teaching manpower can be reversed, but said the government has to study whether the loss of student population was a short term phenomenon or a structural problem.

With more students and teachers having left, Wong said parents would like their children to move to better schools, while some teachers will also look for better opportunities, meaning weaker schools will suffer.

But he is not worried about a brain drain.

"Talents will return when there are opportunities. The important thing is society has to be stable and has space for development," Wong said.

The Education Bureau will continue to keep an eye on the changes in student population, the anti-pandemic policies in Hong Kong and Shenzhen and immigration control, a spokesman told The Standard.

The bureau relaxed the threshold for approving classes from 25 to 23 students per class from the 2019-20 school year, starting from Primary One classes.

For secondary schools, the bureau said the overall population has gradually increased from 2017-18.


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