Hong Kong-mainland tensions have once again become headlines, this time with parents of cross-border children complaining that the city has not allocated primary school places in their preferred area of North District.
Some parents have said they will seek redress through the legal system but their claims would surely be undermined by the fact that the government never guaranteed that places would be allocated solely on parental preference.
This conflict will not only increase the tension between Hong Kong and the mainland but also pushes the city’s education officials into a corner to make the interests of local parents their top priority.
To avoid such clashes, Hong Kong officials should forge stronger ties with Shenzhen authorities to have more schools in Shenzhen accept cross-border children, easing pressure on Hong Kong’s education system. Otherwise, local parents could be forced to pay for private education as subsidized school places are allocated to cross-border children.
The Education Bureau announced Saturday that only 66.4 percent of 29,124 applicants for primary 1 places in the next school year received one of their first three choices. The rate was down on last year’s low of 68 percent.
The situation has worsened over the past few years due to the influx of Hong Kong-born cross-border children. The parents of these children are not Hong Kong permanent residents but ensured their offspring had the right of abode in the city by giving birth to them in Hong Kong. That right gives the children access to social welfare, free education and other public services, even though their parents live on the mainland.
Parents of cross-border children mostly applied for school places in North District areas, including Sheung Shui, Fanling and Tai Po. These schools are closest to the border and minimize daily commutes for pupils shuttling between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
Cross-border children do have education options in Shenzhen based on the Hong Kong school curriculum. Seven privately owned Shenzhen primary schools offer a combined 200 school places for cross-border children, an option that makes a major difference to travel time.
The governments of Hong Kong and Shenzhen should study the possibility of allowing Hong Kong schools to work with their Shenzhen counterparts to expand the number of school places under the Hong Kong curriculum. It is the most realistic arrangement to ensure education for Hong Kong-born, mainland-based children and places for children living in Hong Kong.
Government figures showed that the number of children born in Hong Kong to mainland residents more than doubled between 2006 and 2011, from 16,044 to 35,736. The figures dropped to below 30,000 in 2012 after the government put restrictions on the births.
But for now the competition for primary school places will only increase as mainland children born in Hong Kong between 2009 and 2012 reach school age. To avoid further tension in the society, it’s time the government worked out how to defuse the issue as cross-border children progress through the education system.
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