SCMP Saturday, June 23, 2001

Education Department ruled sexually discriminatory


Updated at 6.56pm:
The High Court on Friday declared that the Director of Education had sexually discriminated against girls by adhering to the Secondary Schools Placement Allocation System (SSPA) which restricted their chances of attending their school of choice.
The Equal Opportunities Commission was seeking a judicial review of the Director of Education's decision in April 19 last year to keep using the system claiming it was in breach of the Sexual Discrimination Ordinance.
The EOC said the Director's decision came after it uncovered evidence in a 1999 report which found that the system discriminated against high-achieving girls by pulling down their academic results - which were used as a placement mechanism in the secondary school of their choice - by comparing it to a gender curve.
The EOC said the following three components of the SSPA were discriminatory: separate gender curves to scale internal assessment scores; banding students separately by sex; and fixed quotas for female and male students in co-educational schools.
Yesterday, Mr Justice Michael Hartmann in the Court of First Instance ruled the three gender-based mechanisms were discriminatory and unlawful.
He brushed aside the Director's contention that the mechanisms guaranteed the equality of treatment for both boys and girls by ensuring the "late blooming'' boys were not at a disadvantage during their early schooling years.
"In my judgement, if there is a central pillar around which the edifice of Hong Kong's legal system is built, it is repect for the rights and freedoms of the individual,'' he said.
"It is apparaent to me that the Director has looked essentially at what I will call "group fairness'' and, in so doing, has turned a blind eye to the rights of individual boys and girls not to have their school careers - perhaps profoundly - disadvantaged simply on the basis of their sex.''
Mr Justice Hartmann added that before the ruling, provisional arrangements had already been initiated to ensure that from today, substantiated cases of discrimination could be dealt with in a way as to remedy the effects of discrimination.
After the ruling, the Equal Opportunities Commision said it welcomed the High Court's declaration.
EOC Chairwoman Anna Wu Hung-yuk called on the Education Department and the Government to "act quickly'' to save further costs and minimise confusion for students, parents and schools in the wake of today's ruling.
"Our students are entitled to and deserve an education system that is open, fair and non-discriminatory,'' Ms Wu said.