According to Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah’s latest budget, education spending accounts for 21.5 percent of the government’s expenditure, totaling HK$84 billion.
However, despite the fact that education spending still occupies the largest portion of our total government expenditure, its share has continued to decline over the past two decades, from 25 percent in 1997 to 21.5 percent this year.
Apart from increasing funding for training courses offered by the Vocational Training Center and expanding the quotas for university student exchange programs, this year’s budget didn’t place any significant emphasis on education as a whole.
What it does is simply continue the existing policies and keep turning a blind eye to some of the pressing issues facing the education sector.
As for example, the budget has failed to provide extra funding to increase the number of permanent teaching posts in schools in order to address the issue of unbalanced class-teacher ratios of primary and secondary schools across the city.
In fact, the excessive workload and long working hours that are so common among our schools have already pushed frontline education workers to the breaking point, not to mention the low morale among thousands of young teachers hired on contract basis who are suffering from both uncertain future and unequal pay.
Unfortunately, the budget this year has not addressed these issues.
Meanwhile, funding for our pre-school education sector has continued to lag behind inflation, and kindergarten teachers are facing a gloomy prospect for any pay rise in the coming year.
Worse still, the budget didn’t give any extra funding to increase places in the existing kindergarten-cum-child care centers.
There are a total of 246 such centers in the city and their number hasn’t increased since 2005, thanks to the government’s penny-pinching policy.
Much to our dismay, this year’s budget passes the buck of taking care of our young children to our senior citizens by proposing to provide training courses for grandparents on how to babysit their grandchildren.
Why doesn’t the government just use the money to open more child day care centers?
I remember when I grilled Secretary Tsang on education spending at a Legco meeting last year, he pledged his commitment to education, and referred to education as an “equalizer” in society through which kids from underprivileged families can climb up the social ladder through hard work, thereby facilitating upward mobility in society.
Given the half-measures on education put forward in his budget this year, it appears to me that Secretary Tsang was only paying lip service.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 3.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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