Rise of Dropout Rates Results in Significant Class Reduction
95% of Schools Urge the Government to Apply Stabilization Measures

The class reduction brought about by the rapid increase of dropouts has caused anxiety in the educational sector. The HKPTU’s survey found that in addition to class reduction in Primary 1, at least 7 primary schools had to reduce classes in Primary 2 or above in the coming school year, which would cause distortion of class structure in schools and was rare in the past. If class reduction occurs in senior secondary level that lead to a cut down of teachers, the number of elective subjects offered by schools may also be affected. Furthermore, as dropouts occur in schools of different bandings, vicious competition of student admission will disrupt the teaching ecology and even cause mismatch between schools and students. In face of such a new trend of dropouts, the HKPTU urged the EDB to discuss measures with school managements to stabilize the current situation.

In the past, the changes in student population would generally be estimated by the local birth rate and district development, and the number of classes approved by the EDB in Primary 1 and Secondary 1 could remain stable generally for six years, so that most of the schools were able to “maintain stability in classes structure and regular teachers establishment”. However, the recent dropout led by emigration and withdrawal of cross-border students is not limited to any particular grade levels, districts, or types of schools, which may cause a massive shock to school planning and development systems.

One Third of Principals Stated that Emigration and Studying Abroad were the Reasons for Dropout

In order to find out the impact of dropouts on schools, the HKPTU sent out surveys to all secondary and primary schools principals last month, and received a total of 183 valid responses, of which 130 are from primary schools, and 53 from secondary schools. It revealed that around 30% of primary schools have lost more than 21 students due to dropout, with 3 schools losing more than 50 students. One small- scale school even suffered a dropout rate of more than 20%. As for the reasons for dropouts, one-third of the principals stated that emigration and studying abroad are the most common reasons, followed by house moving and cross-border students choosing to study in Mainland.

Class Reduction in Primary 2 or Above was Rare in the Past

According to the survey, about 20% of primary schools (from 14 different districts) were notified by the EDB of class reduction in Primary 1 for the coming school year.

A point worth noting is that in the past dropouts seldom or never caused class reduction in Primary 2 or above, but the recent survey showed that 7 primary schools were expected this situation and 4 of them even had to reduce classes simultaneously in both primary 1 and primary 2 or above.

At the start of each school year, the EDB conducts student headcount for schools to adjusts the number of approved classes and staff establishment in that school year. In other words, the loss of student due to dropouts in recent months would not be counted until the school starts in September this year, and its impact on the number of classes will be reflected in the 2022/23 school year. According to the survey, more than 65% of primary schools were worried or very worried about the class reductions for Primary 1 in the 2022/2023 school year, and more than 55% are worried about class reductions for Primary 2 or above.

30% of Schools Find Difficulties in Enrolling Enough Students in Secondary 1

In contrast with the primary schools, the response rate of secondary schools was relatively low. Also, their rate of dropouts and class reduction was low as yet.

In the survey, 60% of the secondary schools responded that only 10 or less students had dropped out. Among them, there were 3 schools where no student dropout. But in one school more than 51 students dropped out. Besides, only one school stated that it would reduce class in Secondary 1 in the coming school year. Similar to the situation of primary schools, the main reason for dropouts in secondary schools was “emigration/studying abroad”, more than 40% of them indicated that most students dropped out for this reason. Other reasons include “changing to non-DSE studies” or “choosing early employment”. Although the problems of the secondary Schools were still minor for the time being, the principals were not without worries about the pressure of class reduction in future. For example, more than 35% of schools predicted that dropouts will increase and around 30% of schools feel challenged about whether they could admit enough Secondary 1 students for the coming school year. At the same time, nearly 30% of schools were worried or very worried about the reduction of classes in Secondary 1 in 2022/2023 school year, and 30% were even worried about class reduction in Secondary 2 or above.

Avoid Vicious Competition

HKPTU is highly concerned about the crisis of class reduction and school closure triggered by dropouts. As the survey showed, regardless of primary schools or secondary schools, more than 90% agreed that the government should actively participate in finding measures with the sector to stabilize the educational environment. In addition to the increase in dropouts, the number of births in Hong Kong has also dropped from 60,856 in 2016 to 43,100 in 2020 according to the latest figures from the Census and statistics Department. It could be expected that the schools would face greater pressures for admission and class reduction in the future.

Dr. Fung Wai-Wah, President of the HKPTU, emphasized that the EDB should discuss stabilization measures with schools as soon as possible. It was imperative for the government to stop political interference in education, improve the teaching environment, and reassure schools and parents. He urged the EDB to learn from the past and avoid vicious competition among schools, where teachers were forced to hand out pamphlets on the streets and snatch students, and students were suffered from mismatched education.

The Vice-President Ip Kin-Yuen described the dropout figures as alarming, especially the current emigration wave might be just the beginning, and it was unpredictable when the pandemic would be fully controlled. The government should plan in advance before the problem worsened. The EDB had implied relief measures in response to population decline in the past. A more recent example was starting from Primary 1 in the last school year, if the number of classes had to be reduced in light of the enrolment in the student headcount in mid-September, the threshold for approving classes would be reduced from 25 to 23 student per class. Ip suggested that the number of students could be further adjusted downward, and the measure could also be extended to Primary 2 or above.

Changes in the Number of Approved Classes in Surveyed Primary Schools in the 2021/2022 School Year

Number of Classes Unchanged Increase in the Number of Classes Reduce in the Number of Classes
Primary 1 95 schools  4 schools  28 schools
Primary 2 or Above 117 schools 0 schools 7 schools