Xi lives in Longhuaxin, Shenzhen, and attends a kindergarten in Hong Kong’s Tin Shui Wai area. Although class starts at 9 in the morning, she gets out of bed every day at 6. She spends 4 to 5 hours every day commuting between her home and the school.
Figures published by the Hong Kong Education Bureau show that between 2012 and 2013, border-crossing students reached 16,000, more than 30 times the 1997 figure of 500. Why have they been rushing to Hong Kong to attend school? What difficulties currently exist? How should Hong Kong and the mainland alleviate the pressure produced by these students? Reporters went to investigate.
Why go to Hong Kong? Unable to receive compulsory education in Shenzhen; admiration of Hong Kong’s quality education
Xi’s mother Mrs. Zhuo told reporters that Xi was born in Hong Kong in 2006, and neither she nor her husband are from Hong Kong. Xi is a typical “shuangfei child” (a child born in Hong Kong to non-Hong Kong parents). “We thought about it a lot, and since our child has already received Hong Kong residency, we hope she can get used to Hong Kong life and culture as early as possible. After all, the educational content and methods of the two areas are very different, plus, it’s very difficult for her to get into a public school in Shenzhen. So we had no choice but for her to travel between Shenzhen and Hong Kong for her kindergarten education.”
According to reports, shuangfei children are born in Hong Kong, and only have residency in Hong Kong. They do not hold Shenzhen hukou, so they can only attend privately operated local schools or high-cost international schools in Shenzhen. Some parents want to get a mainland hukou for their children and regain their mainland citizenship, but have discovered that mainland laws prohibit the holding of both Hong Kong residency and mainland hukou concurrently. In order to receive hukou, they must give up Hong Kong residency. Parents who are unwilling to give up the Hong Kong residency of their shuangfei children have no choices aside from cross-border education and high-tuition [private] education in the mainland.
Data from the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department shows 82% of shuangfei parents want their children to attend school in Hong Kong because they feel the education system is better. The benefits of a Hong Kong education have compelled these parents to bring their children across the border to study daily, despite the hardship it causes. The Hong Kong Education Bureau provides “education vouchers” to help qualified kindergarteners every year. For example, during the 2012-2013 school year, every qualifying student received a stipend of HKD 16,800.
Zhang Yuqing, Commissioner of Hong Kong International Social Services and the Shenzhen Luohu District Cross-Border Schoolchildren’s Service Center, feels the education system of Hong Kong is open and transparent, and the academic atmosphere is one of fairness, with emphasis placed on cultivation of a child’s values. Additionally, children can improve their English language level more rapidly in Hong Kong.
What practical issues exist? Road weariness, safety issues, clash of culture and values
Reporters learned that the number of cross-border student is increasing as well. “Previously, it was many elementary school students who came to Hong Kong to study. In recent years, they’re getting younger and younger.” According to Zhang Yuqing, due to differences in language and culture, many elementary school students who did not attend kindergarten in Hong Kong found difficult in attending school there, so cross-border students increasingly choose to first attend kindergarten in Hong Kong, then move on to elementary school there.”
According to investigation, in addition to the large amount of energy required for students to travel between Shenzhen and Hong Kong every day, students also faced numerous issues of safety and integration.
A survey conducted by Hong Kong International Social Services found that the unavailability of sufficient numbers of border crossing documents has led to many third-year elementary school students crossing the border on their own to board trains and get to school. As the age of cross-border students lowers, the number of border crossing documents for kindergarten students has risen. At the same time, this may cause all sorts of situations for the six and seven year old children, such as smugglers placing contraband goods into their schoolbags, their becoming the targets of bully or other harm, or the loss of their identifying documents.
Additionally, although cross-border students are technically from Hong Kong, most of their “Hong Kong experience” is limited to school life. These students return to Shenzhen immediately after school ends, and mostly remain in Shenzhen on weekend and during vacations. The lack a knowledge of and experience with broader society. They do not have a sense of the history, culture, customs, values, and citizen responsibilities of Hong Kong. If students are to become “real Hong Kong people”, the values and customs of Hong Kong people must be planted deeply into the hearts of the schoolchildren. This is the only way they’ll pass the “Hong Kong spirit” on to the next generation, and truly integrate the experiences of the two different places.
Hong Kong already numerous specialized social groups that serve cross-border students and families. Hong Kong International Social Services and Shenzhen Luohu District Women’s Union are working together to form a Luohu District cross-border student services center, and with Shenzhen City Human Social Work Services Group are founding a “One Home Shenzhen-Hong Kong” organization to support cross-border families and families bound for Hong Kong. These organizations provide guidance for cross-border students on homework, and consultation on Hong Kong’s education, schools, social welfare, and so forth.
In order to promote student safety, Shenzhen Wenjindu Border Control and Shenzhen Luohu District Women’s Union have agreed upon a communications network process with Hong Kong International Social Services, and are actively assisting cross-border students in completing their border crossings.
How to address matriculation pressure? Hong Kong gov’t makes preparation required to help cross-border students alleviate “difficulties in study”
In recent years, the National People’s Congress of Hong Kong and North District Representative Chen Yong have received increasing numbers of complaints asking the government to take a serious look at the cross-border students coming to study in district kindergartens and elementary schools. These students have caused overcrowding at district schools, and forced local students to to attend school in other areas.
The North District is one of the campuses closest to Shenzhen. When cross-border students take part in the “First-Year Matriculation Plan”, most choose North District Elementary School, and this has caused space issues at the school. On February 1st, Hong Kong Education Bureau announced it would take “special measures” this year through a “return process” to help local first year students at North District Elementary School with their studies. After enrollment of first year students is announced this year, students who are North District residents and have applied to attend North District schools, but have been unwillingly assigned to Tai Po District schools, will be sent to North District schools. These students, however, will not be allowed to choose which North District school they attend.
The Education Bureau explained that it will optimize plans for the 2014-2015 school year and years following by reasonably and legally prioritizing the requests of North District students. This will substantially decrease cross-district school registration for these students due to the influx of cross-border students. This will also increase cooperation with other departments for better cross-border coherence, and hopefully distribute cross-border students to districts other than North District in a more effective manner.
Regarding the year by year increase of cross-border students, Liao Ziliang, Principal of Hong Kong Fengxi #1 Elementary School, suggests that Hong Kong government should take action, and reasonably distribute educational resource. In the short term, they can appropriately expand all class sizes and spaces for students. In the long term, more schools need to be built in the Shenzhen border areas in order to meet the needs of increasing numbers of cross-border students. The government should simultaneously grant the accompanying border crossing documents for school-bound vehicles.
In reality, many schools in Hong Kong are facing student shortages. Chen Yong suggests the government pools cross-border students at schools in these areas, killing two birds with one stone by alleviating the pressure at schools in the border areas and fixing issues related to lack of students in these other areas.
Chen Yong says that overcrowding in the North District has already become a point of conflict between Hong Kong people and mainlanders, and that this type of “inter-regional conflict” is very much a reflection of the contradiction between government policy and resource distribution. Policy and resources must come into line with one another in order to resolve this issue, and the government has a great responsibility in doing this.
Original publication date: 7/9/2013