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LCQ19: Regulation of students' use of mobile telephones

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Eddie Ng Hak-kim, in the Legislative Council today (April 9):


     Quite a number of students studying at Ma On Shan St. Joseph's Secondary School and their parents have complained to me that the rule of the school which prohibits students from bringing mobile telephones to school is unreasonable and that the teachers of the school have also searched students' belongings to enforce the rule. Also, when conducting such searches, the teachers have asked students to make moves which caused embarrassment to the latter, and checked the call logs in students' mobile telephones. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether it knows the number of searches of students' belongings conducted by the teachers of the aforesaid school in the past five years; whether, during the sports day of the school in the 2013/14 school year, any teacher searched the belongings of students of the opposite sex;

(2) as the aforesaid school issued on March 5 this year a circular to the parents of students citing the prevention of students from using mobile telephones to carry out improper acts (e.g. clandestine photo-taking) at school as its ground for prohibiting students from bringing mobile telephones to school, whether the Education Bureau (EDB) knows if, in the past five years, there were cases in the aforesaid school in which students were found to have carried out clandestine photo-taking using their mobile telephones; if there were, of the number of such cases and, among them, the number of those referred to the Police for follow-up; if not, whether EDB has assessed if prevention of students from using mobile telephones to carry out improper acts as cited in the aforesaid circular is a tenable argument;

(3) whether it knows, in each of the past five years, the number of students of the aforesaid school who were punished by the school for bringing mobile telephones to school, as well as the details of the punishment;

(4) whether it knows the current requirements and arrangements of aided schools concerning students bringing mobile telephones to school;

(5) whether the Education Ordinance (Cap. 279) and the guidelines issued by EDB to aided schools prohibit students from bringing mobile telephones to school, or using mobile telephones during recess and lunch break or their journeys to and from school; if so, of the legal basis for such rules, and whether EDB will immediately impose punishment on those schools which allow students to do so;

(6) whether EDB has assessed if the school rule of prohibiting students from bringing mobile telephones to school, as well as the practice of checking the call logs of students' mobile telephones have contravened Article 30 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that "[t]he freedom and privacy of communication of Hong Kong residents shall be protected by law", or violated the legislation on protecting personal data privacy and human rights; if it has assessed and the outcome is in the positive, whether EDB will require the schools concerned to abolish that school rule and cease such a practice; if it will, when it will do so; if not, whether EDB will rectify such a situation only after the parents have instituted legal proceedings;

(7) whether any existing legislation has empowered teachers in aided schools to search students' belongings; if so, of the details and the legal basis; and

(8) whether the Education Ordinance and the guidelines issued by EDB to aided schools stipulate that searches of students' belongings should only be conducted by teachers of the same sex; if so, of the details, including the penalty for violating such a requirement; if not, whether EBD will make such a requirement so as to avoid embarrassment being caused to female students by male teachers searching their belongings?



     Our consolidated reply to the above questions is as follows:

     In accordance with the Education Ordinance (Cap. 279), the management committee or incorporated management committee of a school shall be responsible for ensuring that the school is managed satisfactorily and the education of the pupils is promoted in a proper manner. For implementation, schools should lay down school rules to specify the basic requirements on the behaviour of students in the school, thus cultivating a safe and orderly learning environment for the students. It is set out in the School Administration Guide compiled for aided schools by the Education Bureau (EDB) that school rules should aim at developing self-discipline in students, thus teaching, guiding and protecting students. School rules should be drawn up with input from teachers, parents and students. Schools should enable their students to apprehend the meaning of the school rules as well as to reach a common understanding towards school rules. Also, school rules should be reviewed periodically. Separately, the EDB requires that schools should enforce their school rules in a lawful, sensible and reasonable manner while ensuring fairness and consistency in application. In maintaining discipline among students, schools should, under all circumstances, pay due regard to students' dignity, individual differences and their rights to education.

     The Education Ordinance and the guidelines issued to aided schools by the EDB have not stipulated any specific requirement in relation to students taking mobile phones to school. That said, the School Administration Guide sets out the basic principles that schools may refer to when formulating and enforcing their school rules. Schools may also work out school-based arrangements in the light of their own circumstances. In this connection, the schools should make reference to the relevant legislation of Hong Kong to ensure that the school rules are consistent with the current legislative requirements. Furthermore, the EDB has all along been encouraging schools to maintain close communication with parents. Parents may approach schools direct to express their views or make suggestions for the latter to consider and follow up in a timely manner.

     Complaints lodged by the public against schools (such as the incidents mentioned in this question) will be handled by the EDB according to the established procedures. In more specific terms, the schools will directly take up complaints relating to their daily affairs (e.g. reward and punishment system, student discipline, etc), while the EDB will directly take up complaints relating to the Education Ordinance, the Education Regulations, education policies and services directly provided by the EDB. If the complaints involve other legislations of Hong Kong, the EDB will advise the complainants to approach the departments/organisations concerned (e.g. the Police Force, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Equal Opportunities Commission, etc.) or refer the cases to the departments/organisations concerned.

     For the cases cited in this question, the EDB's Regional Education Office learned from the school concerned that having regard to the students' learning environment and with their interests in mind, the school considers that adequate facilities have already been provided to cater for the general needs of students during their stay in school and therefore they need not take their mobile phones to school for use. In case of urgent need, students and parents may communicate with each other over the phone provided at the school office. If individual students have a particular need to take their mobile phones to school, the school may exercise discretion flexibly. We have also learned that parents generally understand and support the arrangements. Moreover, the school is actively explaining to parents and students the rationale for enforcing this school rule and its emphasis on students' interests in terms of learning when responding to their requests.

     With regard to the child's interests and those of the school as a whole, when a parent sends his child to a school, he delegates to the school principal and teachers his own authority of parenting. Schools then implement the school rules in a reasonable manner meeting the circumstantial needs, thus maintaining disciplines and the welfare of students as a whole. However, to search a student's belongings is an interference with his privacy. Such a search should only be conducted when it is judged to be lawful and not arbitrary. If in doubt, the school should consult the respective Police School Liaison Officers or the school's legal adviser.

     In the event that a search is inevitable, the school should observe the Principles and Procedures for Searching a Student's Belongings set out in the School Administration Guide. It is of utmost importance that the search should be considered necessary, lawful, appropriate and justifiable by the school and the search should be conducted in such a way that due regard is paid to the feelings and dignity of the student being searched. If there is any finding during the search that may make the student liable to criminal prosecution, the teacher should report to the police immediately.

     It falls within the school's daily operation and internal affairs to formulate and enforce school rules. The responsibility should rest with the school itself. Schools are not required to submit relevant information (such as the misconduct of students in detail) to the EDB. Hence, we do not have the requested information of individual schools.

Ends/Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:39


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