Kelvin Chan Mankey
The number of cross-boundary students has soared in recent years, but the support to them, like school coaches and student e-Channels, is inadequate, according to legislator and chairman of headmasters conference.
Conducted in 2007 by the Planning Department, the Cross boundary Travel Survey indicated that there were 6,300 students crossing the boundary via various control points to attend schools in Hong Kong-an increase of 28 per cent when compared with 4,900 in the 2006 survey.
In this academic year, the government allocated 20 cross-boundary school coaches to ensure students’ safety when crossing the border daily. However, Mr Yam Siu-kee, the Chairman of North District Primary School Headmasters Conference, said the coaches can only serve about 1,000 students, and are not enough to cater to the escalating demand.
He said the long-term solution lies in trains rather than school coaches. “But parents would have a greater burden as there is no allowance offered by Mass Transit Railway (MTR) from Lo Wu to Sheung Shui,” he said.
Legislator Cheung Man-kwong said a single ride from Lo Wu to Sheung Shui costs $18.8, mounting up to at least $700 per month for the transportation of their children. He urged the MTR to offer student allowance for these cross-boundary students.
Mr So Sai-chi, Chairman of North District Council said he called for this offer every year but MTR responded that the fare from Sheung Shui to East Tsim Sha Tsui would increase to offset the profit if they offered student allowance from Lo Wu to Sheung Shui due to profit margins.
“We have to strike the balance between the interest of students and that of other citizens but it doesn’t mean that we’ve given up,” Mr So said.
He said the North District Council would keep fighting for student allowance when they know that MTR is making enough profit to bring about the allowance.
To protect their children’s safety whilst crossing the border, some parents hire nannies to look after them, but one nanny has to take care of at least ten students, and that worries some parents.
Mr Yam said the cross-boundary student automated passenger clearance system, the student e-Channels, helps mitigate the glut of students but there are only six student e-Channels in Lo Wu.
He urged the government to set up more e-Channels in Lo Wu and other border control points but spokesman for the Immigration Department made no comment on whether the authority will increase the number of student e-Channels.
Mr Yam also suggested that the government expand the primary schools in North District to meet the rising demands because cross-boundary students not only study at schools in North District, but also in Sha Tin or Tai Po.
A government official, however held a different view.
“Fanling is part of North District and there is adequate room for schools in Fanling to accommodate the cross-boundary students in the future few years,” Mr Lau Chau-shan, Senior School Development Officer of New Territories East Regional Education Office, said.
He added that some parents are willing to send their children to primary schools outside North District because they think the quality of these schools is better than that of those in North District.
Mr Yam also said that cross boundary students have fewer chances to participate in extra-curricular activities then local stu dents have.
“They have to rush back to Shenzhen immediately after school, thus they cannot attend the extra-curricular activities available to students such as English tutoring and sports training,” he said.
He said transit between Hong Kong and the mainland takes about four hours, and parents do not like their children to go home late.
Sponsored by The Community Chest of Hong Kong, International Social Service (ISS) has established two centres in Shenzhen in 2006 to offer these cross-boundary students activities after class, and about 1,000 students have benefited from it.
“The government said its welfare can only be used in Hong Kong, thus it is a great step forward for The Community Chest of Hong Kong to sponsor us and set up centres in Shenzhen and serve the student,” Ms Cheung Yuk-ching, Director of Intercountry Casework and Cross-border Services of ISS Hong Kong Branch, said.
Ms Cheung said most of the cross-boundary families can barely make ends meet and they cannot get any help from the Hong Kong government as the students and the mothers are not Hong Kong residents. Meanwhile, the mothers cannot get subsidy from the Shenzhen government because most of them are not indigenous Shenzhen citizens.
She lamented that the government did not utilise their resources flexibly.
She said the government should not separate the father or mother as an individual but regard the family as a unit when examining the application for the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme as they are indeed Hong Kong citizens.
She recalled that there were serious cases that the families can hardly afford the tuition fees and the students are forced to suspend their studies.
According to Ms Cheung, one of the reasons why there have been more and more cross-boundary students is that cross-boundary marriages have increased considerably.
She said the implementation of Education Voucher Scheme also gives an incentive for parents to send their children to kindergartens in Hong Kong as they can get a $1,000 worth of subsidy.
“The newly opened Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Corridor (HK-SWC) which greatly shortens the commuting time from Shenzhen to Tuen Mun or Yuen Long also prompts parents to send their children to study in Hong Kong,” she added.
Edited by Raquel Tso Sin-yu
“They have to rush back to Shenzhen immediately after school, thus cannot attend the extra-curricular activities available to them Mr Yam Siu-kee said.