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LCQ9: School Improvement Programme projects and future school provision planning

    Following is a question by Dr Hon Raymond HO and a written reply by the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Professor Arthur K C Li, in the Legislative Council today (March 29):

Question :

     It has been reported that because of inadequate enrolment this year, nine primary schools have been ordered by the Education and Manpower Bureau to stop taking in primary one students with effect from the coming school year.  Among them, eight schools have recently completed their school improvement programmes ("SIPs"), involving a total works cost of $200 million.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the authorities have, before embarking on the above SIPs, considered the problem of inadequate enrolment at the schools concerned arising from a fall in population; and

(b) as the schools concerned have to stop taking in new students after spending a substantial amount of public money on the SIPs, whether the authorities will include new measures in their future school provision planning, so as to prevent the recurrence of similar cases?

Reply :

Madam President,

(a) We always maintain vigilance on the progress of School Improvement Programme (SIP) projects and the changing circumstances of the schools concerned and, where appropriate, seek to adjust the scope of an on-going project or to stop it altogether.  Since the publication of "Projections of Population Distribution, 2002-11" in August 2002, the Government has discontinued, during the feasibility study stage and early construction stage, some 100 SIP projects owing to impending school closure, re-provisioning, in-situ re-development, or cost-effectiveness considerations (including the enrolment situation at that time and availability of space for significant improvement to school facilities).  We must, however, emphasise that it is unreasonable to expect the Government to be able to foretell precisely which schools will, a few years later, cease to recruit enough students for operation of P1 classes.  The reason is that P1 enrolment to a very large extent depends on parentsˇ¦ choices of schools.  Hence, our decision on capital investment in upgrading a school's environment can only be guided by information at hand.

     Furthermore, the eight schools which have benefited from SIP were operating with a complete class structure when the SIP projects were planned and implemented.  In the event that the number of classes operated by a school has to be reduced because of falling enrolment, the existing students can still enjoy the improved facilities.  On the contrary, it would have been unfair to the school and its students and also a waste of resources invested if the Government were to suspend the project out of speculation based solely on the reduction in the number of classes that the school will cease to operate P1 classes.

(b) School building projects take four to five years from planning to completion.  During that period, demand for public school places could fluctuate due to mobility of population across districts, demographic changes of the entire population, and other factors such as delay in completion of residential development.  As long as the construction work has yet to start, we will ascertain the need or adjust the scope of individual projects based on the latest circumstances (including school-aged population projections, the situation of student intake, the availability of vacant school premises, etc.) to ensure the optimal use of resources for upgrading the infrastructure of schools.  Last October, we decided to suspend 13 school building projects (including six projects with alternative arrangements) and scale down the scope of some others, clearly reflecting our prudence in the planning of school construction projects.

Ends/Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Issued at HKT 14:04