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LCQ5: 15-year free education

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Man-kwong and a reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (December 1):


     The Executive Council of Macao announced on November 9 2010 that it had finished its discussion on amending the by-law on the Free Education Subsidy Scheme to provide 15-year free education and undertook to implement small class teaching (SCT) in secondary schools progressively.  There have been comments that Hong Kong's education policy lags far behind that of Macao because the Government did not agree to undertake implementation of SCT in secondary schools, and it also does not have plans to provide 15-year free education.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective amounts of total expenditure required for each phase of education in providing 15-year free education in Hong Kong based on the estimation of the Government, and of its method of calculation;

(b) whether the authorities will make reference to the practice of Macao and study the provision of 15-year free education; if they will, when the study will commence; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(c) whether the authorities will follow Macao's practice and draw up plans to progressively extend SCT from primary schools to secondary schools so as to enhance the education quality in Hong Kong; if they will, of the amounts of education funding required for secondary schools as a whole on the basis of the declining population if SCT is to be implemented progressively from Secondary One in secondary schools starting from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively?



     My reply to the three-part question raised by Hon Cheung is as follows:

(a) Since the Government has no plan to provide 15-year free education starting from pre-primary level, we do not have the estimates requested in the question.

(b) As mentioned above, the Government has no plan to provide 15-year free education starting from pre-primary level.  The Government has been providing nine-year free and universal basic education (six years of primary education and three years of junior secondary education) through public sector primary and secondary schools (including government, aided and caput schools) since 1978.  The free education provided by public sector schools has been extended to include senior secondary education starting from the 2008/09 school year.  In addition, with effect from the 2008/09 school year, the Government has been providing full subvention for full-time courses offered by the Vocational Training Council for Secondary 3 school leavers to provide them with an alternative and free study pathway outside mainstream education.

     Pre-primary education in Hong Kong currently falls outside the scope of free basic education, and has all along been provided by the private sector aiming to offer pre-primary education with diversification.  However, the Government has been providing direct fee subsidy for parents to meet towards kindergarten school fees through the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme (PEVS) since the 2007/08 school year.  At present, some 85% kindergarten pupils are benefiting from the PEVS.  The Working Group on Review of Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme will later submit a report to the Education Commission, which will in turn make recommendations to the Government.  The Government will then study the report and the recommendations in detail.

(c) SCT is a method of teaching, in that teachers have to undergo relevant training and schools' hardware should also meet the requirements, for example, more support facilities in classrooms.  At the same time, we have to take into consideration the supply and demand of school places in each district.  As such, it cannot be implemented overnight, and in the case of primary schools, it has to be carried out by phases.  Besides, a long-lasting structural change will come with SCT, which has a profound impact on the adjustment of teaching mode and the allocation of secondary education funding.  Therefore, containing the decline of population in future as well as the scale of class reduction should not be the basis for the implementation of SCT.

     To cope with the issues arising from the impact of the declining student population on secondary schools' development, we believe that encouraging schools to reduce classes voluntarily is the most effective means at the present stage.  When we have carried out effectively the enhanced proposal for the Voluntary Optimisation of Class Structure Scheme and stabilised the situations in schools, we are most willing to explore with stakeholders other measures for enhancing the quality of teaching.

     We do not have estimates of education funding for the implementation of SCT in secondary schools at this stage.

Ends/Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:23


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