【明報專訊】From this school year far fewer students will begin to attend secondary school. Some schools will be closed, and some teachers, made redundant. That has caused much concern among teachers. We gather that the Education Bureau (EDB) is planning to take a number of measures to reduce the impact this situation may have on schools and teachers, and educators are trying to find remedies. In dealing with this issue, the authorities must first and foremost ensure the effective employment of resources. It is proper for and responsible of the EDB not to pledge not to "kill" any schools.
We gather that the EDB's newest way to cope with this problem is to require schools to cut classes. There are 120 secondary schools that have each fewer than 30 classrooms and five secondary one classes. Each of them will have to cut one secondary one class. About 4,000 students will have to be assigned to other schools. As a school that admits 61 new students will have three secondary one classes, the measure will save 65 secondary schools from closure. The EDB will take three other measures. It will merge schools that fail to meet the minimum requirement - fails to admit 61 new students, develop network schools (allow two schools in the same district jointly to offer new senior secondary courses if each of them admits only 42 new students and has only two secondary one classes) and develop special schools (allow schools to survive that offer approved special courses). By taking this four-pronged approach, the government should be able to solve the problem.
The package the government will introduce is likely to strike a proper balance between various stakeholders' interests. Still, principals and teachers seek to gain more. For example, most of the members of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools (which is to meet today) support the idea of requiring crowded schools to cut classes. The body will propose cutting the class size further from 34 to 30. It is reckoned that, if the government adopts its proposal, there will be 300 more classes. Furthermore, the Professional Teachers' Union (PTU) is trying to talk the EDB into allowing schools to have small classes instead of "killing" them. The proposal of the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools would further narrow the narrow gates of schools that are popular among parents, who would raise objections. As for what the PTU calls small-class teaching, it would be of dubious efficiency and would waste public money.
A secondary school may have three secondary one classes if it meets the minimum requirement - admits 61 new students. If they are evenly distributed, it will have two secondary one classes of 20 and one of 21. Such a class size is already quite small. A school will only have itself to blame for its closure if it fails to admit such a small number of new students though there are EDB measures designed to help schools out. There is another important point - that small classes do not necessarily receive small-class teaching. Some international schools have adopted small-class teaching, as have some schools that have adopted the IB programme. However, their teachers have received necessary training, and they have the many required support facilities. If neither its teachers nor its facilities are up to standard, a school's "small-class teaching" will only be nominal. It would only be a political tool. The government would waste education resources if it permitted such "small-class teaching".
There are organisations of teachers and schools in the SAR. The PTU, which is the most influential independent trade union in Hong Kong, is one of them. Their interests do not always coincide with parents' and students'. Schools and teachers may use "working for students' interests" as a pretext. The government's package of measures to save schools from closure is in students' interests. It does not use up large amounts of resources. We therefore take the view that the EDB should not bow to schools' or trade unions' pressure. It ought to adhere to what is good. It should sensibly and temperately solve the problem mainly by requiring schools to cut classes.