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Statement by SED on declining student population

     The following is the statement by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, on the declining student population today (September 13):

     The latest projection of Hong Kong population released by the Census and Statistics Department shows that there will be a steady sharp decline in the annual intake of Secondary 1 students in the coming few years. It will fall by 21,500 students, from 75,400 in 2009 to 53,900 in 2016, representing a decrease of 28.5%. We anticipate that the falling trend will only ease after 2016.     

     We are currently unable to make a more accurate assessment of the situation after 2016 because it depends on the assumption we made about the number of babies born to Mainland parents who will return to Hong Kong for their secondary schooling.

     We have met representatives from various school councils, district school heads' associations, school sponsoring bodies, educational bodies and parents over the past month to listen to their views as to how to handle this difficult situation which we face.

     We are well aware of the importance of maintaining the quality of education, respecting parental choice of schools and making proper use of public resources while maintaining a stable situation and minimising the impact as far as possible.

     It is unavoidable that the numbers of schools and classes will have to be adjusted to accommodate the drastic decline in student population. Our best course of action is to try to contain the situation and maintain a balanced diversity of schools to cater for students of different abilities. At the same time, we will have to address teachers' concerns and do our utmost to ensure the stability of the teaching force so as to enable them to concentrate on their teaching work.

     With the above in mind, the Education Bureau has started to put forward a series of measures in response to the declining student population. Early this year, we introduced the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme. Under this scheme, 23 secondary schools have already reduced the number of Secondary 1 classes from five to four. However, some schools have yet to make a decision because they worry that the scheme may have a labelling effect, affect the stability of the teaching force and go against parents' wishes.

     During preliminary discussions, it has been suggested to us that secondary schools with inadequate classrooms should proactively explore the feasibility of reducing classes, so as to free up teaching space to tie in with the implementation of the 334 New Academic Structure, under which students will be offered broad and balanced subject choices and provided with a conducive learning environment. We believe that this is the best option open to us to overcome the present problem. We will step up our efforts to this end.

     As the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme and other development options, including merger of schools, formation of school networks and operation of featured schools, have only been introduced a few months ago, we understand that it will take time for school sponsoring bodies and various stakeholders of schools to discuss and coordinate the future development options where necessary. Therefore, for schools which have enrolled less than 61 students to operate three Secondary 1 classes in the 2010/11 school year, a grace period of one year will be offered. These schools need not apply for any development options immediately, but should make use of this grace period to prepare for their future development.

     To ensure the education quality of these under-enrolled schools, the schools concerned are required to undertake that there will be adequate resources to provide a broad and balanced curriculum to the Secondary 1 students of this year (i.e. 2010) when they progress to senior secondary classes three years later. However, if individual schools have already made full preparations, they may apply for the existing development options.

     As the decline in student population has a profound impact, the education sector will inevitably be affected. Therefore, active support from various stakeholders is required so that we can address the issue with appropriate measures, hoping that the impact will be kept to a minimum while the quality of education will be maintained and public resources properly utilised.

     In the next few months, we will continue to communicate with various stakeholders and make detailed analysis of the situation in different districts and schools in choosing the most appropriate development options so as to effectively reduce the impact of the declining student population and help schools decide on their final choice of future development options.

Ends/Monday, September 13, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:52


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