PTU News Reporter
In the Budget announced by John Tsang, our Financial Secretary, the Government emphasized that the public expenditure on education for this financial year was the highest among all the sectors, which would seem to show that the Government had all the time attached great importance to education. However, the reality was that nothing new was announced in the Budget, and all the measures were those that the Government had promised before. HKPTU criticized the Budget in our press conference, but the Bureau cunningly replied that the focus should not be on how many new measures they have, but on long term development. The Bureau even suggested that we should not concentrate on the “number game”.
Not Enough Public Expenditure on Education
It is not a “number game” but an important step to analyze the figures and look into how great significance the Government attaches to education. One of the most related figures is the percentage of GDP spent on the education. From this figure we can find out whether the investment in education is proportional to the national wealth, and whether the public expenditure on education is high enough. The Government allocated only 3.4% of Hong Kong’s GDP on education, which is remarkably lower than those spent by the developed OECD countries nearby which could reach 6.1% of GDP on average, or 5.3% of their public expenditure. In this financial year HK’s fiscal reserve has amounted to 819.5 billion dollars which is the highest since the handover in 1997, but the public expenditure on education has decreased to 16.5% of the total public expenditure which is the lowest since 1997. The figure showed it is wrong to say that more money is spent on education. The Government could have put more resources on education, which is now however locked in the treasury.
Does the Budget enhance long-term development on education?
Besides the figures, we also found that the Government had not dealt with the most urgent educational issues, needless to say any long-term planning to bring a new paradigm shift. HKPTU’s comments as follows aimed to cover the loopholes we try very hard to tackle. These are the demands from the education sector for a better development in long run.
Comments on the key policies
Pre-primary education: CY Leung promised in his election platform to increase subsidies and school places for full-day kindergartens. These have not yet been realized. The Government has no inclination to subsidize full-day kindergartens, nor interim additional subsidies on education vouchers.
Secondary education: The number of secondary school students has been decreasing and the Government failed to take this opportunity to implement small-class teaching, nor to make good plans on school places. They reduced the number of classes instead.
Employment of junior teachers: The teaching staff establishment has been downsized. This created a big gap and many junior teachers are unemployed as a result.
Vocational and Tertiary Education: The Government focused on internship places only and made no plans on vocational education nor subsidized tertiary education places.
Inclusive education: No supportive measures were suggested. Only the Community Care Fund, a fund that aims to “combat poverty”, will create a coordinator for special education needs in schools.
To resolve the big issues, we not only propose a short-term solution, but also a long-term plan. Disappointing is that despite the fiscal surplus of the Government for many years, no substantial remedy could so far be proposed to tackle the most urgent issues facing the sector. We wonder if Eddie Ng, the Secretary for Education, has done his job well to propose good policies and fight for more resources for education in long run. We reiterate that Ng should act more responsibly and more courageously to fight for the well-being of our next generation. He should not only shrug off the responsibilities or turn a deaf ear to the sector, which only falls short of expectation of parents.
HKPTU’s proposal for long-term educational development:
◆ Increase subsidies on the unit cost for full-day and long full-day kindergartens. Improve the salary structure for kindergarten teachers.
◆ Increase the number of publicly funded university places and articulation places in bachelor’s degree programmes for sub-degree graduates. Subsidize eligible students currently enrolled in self-financed programmes.
◆ Implement small-class teaching in secondary schools. Make better plans on school places and stop closure of schools.
◆ Increase permanent teaching posts and employ more junior teachers
◆ Provide more fund for inclusive education. Provide financial support for these students on a weighted basis. Recruit a permanent coordinator for the students in special schools. Improve the teacher-to-student ratio in special schools.
◆ Re-build the value of vocational education and establish the career paths of different professions. Allocate more resources on vocational education in secondary schools.