Yesterday was the first day of school. Over 20,000 cross-border pupils rushed into Hong Kong to attend school. Their influx was highly concentrated in the peak time between 6.30 am and 7.30 am, causing congestion at the nine border crossings. As a result, chaos was seen at the Shenzhen Bay, Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau and other border crossings, with passengers and vehicles waiting in long queues and school buses jammed with cross-border passenger buses. What a miserable experience for the cross-border pupils who woke up at 5.00 or 6.00 am in hope of crossing the border in time! It took some of them two hours to arrive in their schools, just to miss the most important school opening ceremony. The first day of school was chaotic. Will every school day be just like that afterwards? We hope authorities concerned could work out measures to cope with the situation and facilitate the travel for cross-border pupils.
The influx of cross-border pupils is not a new thing for this year, which in fact started five or six years ago. Their number has grown from more than one thousand in the beginning to over 20,000 this year. This problem cannot and should not be faced and handled by a single government department alone. The SAR Government must think it out and deal with it at an inter-departmental level. Only in this way can a permanent solution be found, and can the undesirable departmental selfishness of " letting every man skin his own skunk " be overcome. First of all, customs and security authorities at border check points should put themselves in the shoes of the over 20,000 cross-border pupils, thinking of their difficulties in travelling across the border every day and trying to understand their feelings. Only in this way can they work out effective countermeasures. How come the number of Closed Area Permits to Lo Wu has been cut by 16%, from last year's 2,600 to this year's 2,100?
After the Passenger Terminal of the Man Kam To Border Control Point reopened, the special quota granted to cross-border school buses for the new school year remains 13 - the same as last year. Is this relevant authorities' way to address the needs of the people? Don't forget, all cross-border pupils, regardless whether their parents are Hong Kong permanent residents or not, had their right of abode in Hong Kong, and all are entitled to receive basic education in Hong Kong.
At present, Lo Wu check point is so saturated with nanny vans that it could be said there is no room left for even a needle to get in. But it seems the number of cross-border pupils choosing to use the Lo Wu crossing is endless, because the shortest and most convenient travel route between Shenzhen and Hong Kong is via Lo Wu. To solve the problems regarding nanny vans and border crossing requires negotiation and coordination between the Immigration Department and Transport Department and other authorities.
Secondly, the number of cross-border pupils now exceeds 20,000, and is expected to multiply to some 40,000 or 50,000 in future. This is an inevitable tendency which the Education Bureau must square up to. Top priority right now is to launch as soon as possible some measures that can take effect in a short period of time. The education authority must not sit idle and wait for three more years until the completion of construction of the primary school at Ching Ho Estate in Sheung Shui. One suggestion is to consider reopening the now defunct village schools along MTR lines, letting such education facilities play their role again. It seems no reason why new schools should be built while existing school buildings are left vacant. Renovating village schools and sorting out their ownership by all means should be much quicker and time-saving than spending several years to look for proper sites for new schools, and to negotiate with relevant District Councils and ask the Architectural Services Department for planning and construction.
It should be taken into consideration that cross-border pupils now flow into everywhere in Hong Kong. Not only in North District, Tai Po and Tian Shui Wai but also in Sha Tin, Ma On Shan, Tseung Kwan O and even Hong Kong Island, there are schools enrolling cross-border pupils in recent years. After all, amid the trend of having to reduce class size given the decrease in the number of local students, cross-border students, tens of thousands in number, become a new resource for education and provide a new way for Hong Kong to exploit its advantages in education to the full. Besides conceiving of setting a special school network for cross-border pupils, the Education Bureau should also make good planning for the abandoned school buildings along MTR lines so as to revitalise them for the use of schooling. This, for one thing, could satisfy the wish of cross-border students and their parents to come and attend school in Hong Kong. Secondly, this could help ease the anxiety of primary and secondary school teachers and stabilise the teaching team. Thirdly, this would help cross-border students integrate themselves with local ones so that they could get along and accommodate each other.
There is a voice in society appealing for the SAR Government to set up and run primary schools in Shenzhen. The Ministry of Education has said it would study the feasibility. It is unlikely that this could be put into practice shortly. Instead of sitting there to wait, all relevant departments of the SAR Government must rather act promptly, starting to coordinate and plan – from the perspectives of population planning, supportive transport facilities, community construction and education welfare, so as to join their efforts to ease the pressure on Hong Kong's educational resources by the ever growing number of cross-border students. We hope the sentence, "Back to school again, are you late?", would become a past tense one and replaced by one in the present continuous tense: "Back to school again, more new school mates are coming."
03 September 2013