Much to the disappointment of members of the education sector, Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s maiden policy address didn’t address some of the most fundamental concerns of educators — issues such as improving the current student-teacher ratio, reviewing the employment conditions of teachers, and scrapping the TSA test for good.
That said, the CE delivered at least one piece of good news for the sector. That is, the government will be providing a recurrent “air-conditioning grant” for schools starting from the 2018/19 school year.
Moreover, the administration will also undertake to install air-conditioners in classrooms, function rooms, student activity centers and assembly halls of all public and government-subsidized schools stage by stage.
The move came as there has been a consensus within the education sector that the administration should install air-conditioning facilities in schools and subsidize their expenditure on electricity, because the costs for installing these facilities and running them are often so huge that they are beyond the means of most schools.
To give readers some idea about how expensive it is to install air-conditioners in schools, according to the findings of a survey carried out by my Legco office, the average cost for installing air-conditioners in all classrooms and major indoor areas in a school is about HK$730,000, while the average annual expenditure on maintenance and electricity stands at around HK$210,000.
In one extreme case, it costs a school a whopping HK$970,000 a year to keep its air-conditioners running.
As we can see, installing and maintaining air-conditioning systems often constitutes a huge financial burden on schools, many of which are already being run on a shoestring.
As a matter of fact, over the years, there had been repeated calls among the education sector for the government to provide subsidies for schools in this regard. However, former Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim just kept dragging his feet over this issue, and pulling off one excuse after another.
As such, I am glad that our calls were finally answered in the latest policy address.
However, providing schools with the air-conditioning grant is far from enough, as there is still a whole bunch of pressing issues concerning our education system that need to be addressed immediately.
I hope provision of the air-conditioning grants is only the beginning.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 12
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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