SCMP Tuesday, May 23, 2000


Parents demand freedom of choice


Parents can expect a bigger say in the choice of their children's Primary One schools if fierce criticism of the Education Commission forces it to ease its grip on the control of admissions.

The existing "school net" boundary system - whereby schools are grouped according to districts - is expected to be revised. Districts are expected to be enlarged to include more schools. This may mean pupils facing longer journeys.

Commission chairman Antony Leung Kam-chung said yesterday modern transport meant travelling was reasonably convenient. "A pupil should not feel too troubled taking the MTR for one or two more stops," he said.

Mr Leung said the commission appreciated parents' concerns over the proposed Primary One admission reforms and was considering allowing greater flexibility for parents. According to the reforms, Primary One admission will be based on a principle of "vicinity" - pupils will be sent to a school close to their homes. The aim is to avoid parents exerting excessive pressure on children to get them into "elite" primary schools. A child will as a matter of course be admitted to a school if the child's brother or sister is studying there or the child's parent works there. However, a school will have a say on 15 per cent of its Primary One places, allocating them to pupils it considers suitable.

Mr Leung, speaking after yesterday's Legislative Council education panel meeting, said the "vicinity" principle could be rethought to allow parents more choice. "When a family lives near the boundary of a school net, it may be more convenient for them to cross the boundary. "We have also heard of cases in which parents like to send their children to a school near their workplace, which may not be near where they live. In these cases, more flexibility will be considered."

Some legislators said the reforms were not comprehensive enough with regard to medium of instruction, teacher quality or school environment.

Tsang Yok-sing, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, accused the Government of failing to provide adequate funds to upgrade ageing schools. Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said plans to encourage critical thinking were academic in a society where democracy was suppressed.

The education review was launched last year. The commission is expected to submit a final report in September.