At least two schools in Hong Kong could face the axe after they each failed to enrol enough pupils to fill a Primary One class for the coming term amid the city’s falling student population, according to a lawmaker representing the education sector.
Authorities earlier projected Hong Kong would experience a “structural” decline in its student population due to the falling birth rate, which hit a record low in 2022 with only 32,500 newborns.
Legislator Chu Kwok-keung said the Education Bureau told both schools last week they had failed to meet the 16-student quota to open new classes.
Chu urged authorities to allow both schools to remain open, but did not reveal their names.
“The authorities can consider granting funding in accordance with the number of pupils the schools can recruit,” Chu told the Post on Monday.
Under the current system, the government allocates funding to schools based on the number of classes they operate.
“Or the authorities could arrange special inspections to see if the schools are performing so poorly that they deserve to close down,” suggested the legislator, who also revealed the bureau would hold a meeting with the two schools.
Ahead of each academic year, the bureau reviews factors such as the enrolment level of schools by district and their future development plans before approving each institution’s classroom structure.
A bureau spokesman stressed that both schools could weigh in on any decision made by authorities, saying: “After the bureau issues the proposed class structure for the next school year, schools can still express their views on the proposed structure.
“What is more, some primary schools will see relatively bigger student mobility after the release of central allocation [for Primary One admission] results. There is a possibility that the final approved class structure will be different from the proposed one.”
The selection process allows students to initially try for one of the city’s government and aided schools, with those who fail to secure their preferred spot able to later attempt again under the central allocation system.
He added that the actual number of Primary One classes for the 2023-24 academic year would not be finalised until after the year started.
The latest development followed concerns that the city’s declining birth rate and a series of emigration waves had contributed to a shrinking student population.
The government earlier projected the number of children in Hong Kong aged six would fall to 50,000 in 2029 from the 57,300 recorded this year, while the number of students aged 12 would drop from 71,600 to 60,100 over the same period.
Last month, Tak Nga Primary School in Kowloon Tong announced it would gradually wind down operations before closing in 2028, with Primary One classes stopping in the 2024-2025 academic year.
In response to the population decline, the bureau said it would “make adjustments in planning for the supply of school places” and promised “the number of schools would be adjusted in a gradual and orderly manner” to ensure the quality of the education provided and the optimal use of public resources.
It also proposed limiting the practice of “door-knocking”, which involves parents who are unhappy with central allocation results approaching schools directly to secure places for their children, in turn affecting the number of available spots at other institutions.
Meanwhile, Aided Primary School Heads Association vice-chairwoman Polly Chan Suk-yee said she had learned many institutions were cutting classes.
“In the worst cases, schools that can run four Primary One classes this year will only be able to open two classes next year,” she said. “It is kind of expected, because of the declining student population.”
Chu Wai-lam, vice-chairman of the New Territories School Heads Association, said this year’s situation was particularly bad but he hoped the government would allow schools in North district to continue running.
“The government is developing the Northern Metropolis. In the future, the population of the district will increase,” Chu said, referring to the government plan to turn large parts of the New Territories into a residential and tech hub offering more than 900,000 flats and up to 650,000 jobs.
“If we axe schools now, when the population of the district goes up again in the future, there will not be enough schools.”
Chu, the headmaster of Fung Kai No 1 Primary School in Sheung Shui, added that he had raised the matter with officials, who had affirmed the need to prepare for a possible population increase under the scheme.