LegCo Paper No. CB(1)480/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/ED/1

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 15 November 1996 at 10:45 a.m. in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :
    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung (Chairman)
    Hon SZETO Wah
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Members absent :
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon IP Kwok-him
Public officers attending :
Item IV
    Mr Matthew K C CHEUNG, JP
    Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
    Miss Subrina CHOW
    Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
Items IV and VI
    Mr Alfred W K WONG
    Controller, Student Financial Assistance Agency
Items V and VI
    Mr Joshua C K LAW, JP
    Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
    Miss Annette LEE
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
    Mrs Helen C P Lai YU, JP
    Director of Education
    Mr Anthony K H TONG
    Assistant Director of Education (Schools)
Item VI
    Miss Nancy LAW
    Deputy Secretary for Transport
    Dr Ernest LEE, JP
    Assistant Commissioner for Transport
Clerk in attendance :
    Miss Polly YEUNG
    Chief Assistant Secretary (1) 3
Staff in attendance :
    Ms Connie SZE-TO
    Senior Assistant Secretary (1) 5

I. Confirmation of minutes of meeting and matters arising

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1)196/96-97 and 239/96-97)

1. The minutes of the Panel meetings held on 8 October and 18 October 1996 were confirmed.

II. Date and items for discussion for next meeting

2. Members agreed to discuss the following items at the next Panel meeting scheduled for Friday, 20 December 1996 at 10:45 a.m.:

  1. Four-year university curriculum;
  2. Suicide by students.

For item (a), it was agreed that the Vice-Chancellors (or their representatives) of the eight UGC-funded institutions would be invited to take part in the discussion. As regards item (b), if possible, the Panel would invite a psychologist or an academic who was well-versed with the subject to join the discussion.

(Post-meeting note: A further item on "Consultation document on the Education Commission Report No. 7 Quality School Education" was included in the agenda at the request of the Administration and with the concurrence of the Chairman.)

3. Hon SZETO Wah suggested and members agreed that issues related to the non-recognition of the Post-graduate Diploma in Education (Primary) awarded by the Hong Kong Institute of Education would be included in the list of outstanding issues of the Panel for future deliberation.

III. Information paper issued since last meeting

4. The Panel noted that no information paper on general subjects had been issued since the last meeting.

IV. Consultancy study on the Local Student Finance Scheme

(LegCo paper No. CB(1)305/96-97(01))

5. Upon invitation of the Chairman, Mr Matthew CHEUNG briefed members on the public feedback on the Consultants' Report on the Local Student Finance Scheme (LSFS) collected from May to October 1996 and the improvements made to the existing LSFS since May 1996.

6. Mr Alfred WONG advised that the Joint Committee on Student Finance (JCSF) had considered the public feedback at its meeting on 13 November 1996 and decided to hold another meeting in mid-January 1997 with a view to drawing up its recommendations to the Administration. He also summarised the discussion of JCSF on 13 November 1996 as follows:

  1. There was general support for retaining the existing LSFS and to further improve it instead of replacing it by a new scheme.
  2. The proposed non-means tested loan scheme might be made available as an additional option for students while means- tested grants should continue to cover tuition fees.
  3. It was necessary to further study the proposed simplified assets test and the appropriateness of replacing the existing Annual Disposable Income formula by the proposed Adjusted Family Income formula.
  4. After thorough discussion, it was also agreed that tertiary education should be regarded as both public investment beneficial to the society and as a form of private investment to facilitate personal advancement.

7. Members noted that the public feedback had broadly concurred with the Panel's views expressed earlier on. At members' request, the Administration undertook to brief members on the latest development of the subject after the JCSF's meeting to be held on 15 January 1997.EMB

8. Responding to a member's enquiry about public views on the interest rates for the proposed non-means tested loan scheme, Mr WONG and Miss Subrina CHOW advised that although there was support for charging the Civil Service Housing Loan Scheme interest rate (i.e. Government's "no-gain-no-loss" rate, currently around 5.8%) for the entire borrowing and repayment period, certain public views were in favour of charging a higher interest rate in the latter part of the repayment period.

9. On the way forward, Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong asked whether the existing LSFS would be continued as the majority of public views were in support of maintaining the current scheme. In reply, Mr Matthew CHEUNG stressed that the Administration had not taken a position on the recommendations of the Consultants' Report and was still awaiting recommendations of the JCSF before developing proposals for improving and/or changing the LSFS. He confirmed that the Administration would continue to implement the existing LSFS. However, some technical improvements might be made in the interval until a revised or a new scheme, if any, was introduced.

10. In reply to a member's enquiry on the composition of the JCSF, Mr WONG advised that the membership of the Joint Committee included representatives of the student unions, student affairs officers and reputable

members of the community. He undertook to provide the membership list for members' reference after the meeting.

(Post-meeting note: The membership list of the JCSF for 1996-97 was circulated vide LegCo Paper No. CB(1)362/96-97.)

V. Problems related to floating classes

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)305/96-97(02))

11. Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed concern about the progress of phasing out floating classes in secondary schools. Pointing out that apparently, there was no floating class in schools operated by the English Schools Foundation (ESF), Mr CHEUNG remarked that the anomaly might give rise to unfairness in the level of subsidies to ESF schools and local schools as the former would receive more subsidies for their recurrent expenses arising from the operation of a larger number of classes with classrooms. Noting that the vast majority of floating classes were found in schools of non-standard design, Mr CHEUNG suggested that the Administration should actively explore the feasibility of building additional classrooms in these schools to address the problem.

12. In response to Mr CHEUNG's concerns, Mrs Helen YU reiterated the Administration's commitment to phasing out floating classes in secondary schools so as to enhance the quality of education. Mr Anthony TONG also made the following points:

  1. The Education Department (ED) had been putting in much effort to reduce floating classes in secondary schools by providing additional classrooms under the School Improvement Programme (SIP) and by building new schools.
  2. Due to the demand on classrooms for other purposes, the serious shortfall of school sites for building new schools, as well as the demand on school places in some districts, floating classes were still run in some schools. Nevertheless, it remained the ED's plan to phase out all floating classes at Secondary One (S1) to Five (S5) in all public sector schools by the year 2000.
  3. The level of government subsidies for ESF schools was comparable to that for local schools.

13. As regards floating classes at Secondary Six (S6) and Seven (S7), Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed dissatisfaction that no information on the present situation was provided in the Administration's paper. Moreover, he strongly disagreed with paragraph 2 of the paper and considered the statement that floating classes at S6 and S7 levels were considered acceptable highly misleading. He pointed out that although S6 and S7 students frequently used special rooms for some subjects, they should not be deprived of their own classrooms. The Administration was urged to reckon with and address the problem of floating classes at S6 and S7 and to work out a timetable for phased elimination. Some members also queried whether the Administration's lack of action in fact implied that there was no policy on phasing out floating classes at S6 and S7.

14. Regarding the current situation of floating classes at S6 and S7, Mr TONG advised that there were about 1,100 such floating classes operating in 316 public sector schools. It was estimated that 42 additional secondary schools would be required to phase out these classes.

15. Addressing members' concerns, Mrs YU and Mr Joshua LAW re-affirmed the Administration's commitment to eliminating all floating classes in secondary schools in due course and highlighted the following points:

  1. The Administration was aware of the problem of floating classes at S6 and S7 and had no intention to conceal the situation or to delay action.
  2. Due to resources constraints, including the shortfall of and competing demand on school sites for implementing various improvement programmes such as whole-day primary schooling, it was necessary to set priorities in improving floating classes in secondary schools. Since S6 and S7 students used special rooms more frequently, it was considered appropriate to accord priority to S1 to S5.
  3. Members' concern to tackle the problem at S6 and S7 as soon as possible was fully noted. The progress of phasing out floating classes at S1 to S5 would be closely monitored and improvement for S6 and S7 would be implemented as early as possible whenever resources permitted.

16. Responding to a member's enquiry on whether the drop in secondary student population in recent years would alleviate the problem of floating classes, Mr TONG advised that the ED was aware of the decreasing trend in secondary student population. Plans to improve the quality of education which included the phasing out of floating classes and reduction in class size had been drawn up accordingly. As regards the impact of Chinese immigrant children (CIC) on the progress of phasing out floating classes, Mr TONG assured members that the increased demand on education arising from CIC had been taken into account in the School Building Programme. Adequate school places would be made available to meet the new demand and hence, it was not expected that the problem of floating classes would be aggravated.EMB/

17. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman requested the Administration to respond to Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong's earlier suggestion of encouraging schools to increase the number of classrooms under the SIP and to provide more information on the situation of floating classes at S6 and S7 after the meeting.

VI. Safety provisions of school transport

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1)321/96-97(01)-(04); Chinese version of the paper tabled at the meeting)

18. Upon the Chairman's invitation, Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong highlighted the following salient points of his position paper:

  1. A special travel subsidy scheme should be devised for students below the age of 12 to help needy parents in paying the extra cost in school transport arising from the requirement on the operators to provide an escort on the school bus. It was also proposed that the means test for the School Textbook Assistance Scheme and the Kindergarten Fee Remission Scheme could be modelled on for screening applications to avoid incurring additional administrative cost. The proposed scheme would have little financial implications as the monthly assistance to each successful applicant would only be in the region of $80 to $100 and the number of eligible students would be small.
  2. There should be contingency arrangements to cater for the absence of escort at short notice. The ED should help schools to organise among parents to act as replacement escorts.
  3. The Transport Department (TD) should consider opening restricted zones to school buses and establishing more designated school bus stops for boarding and alighting of students.

19. On Mr CHEUNG's suggestion to introduce a special travel subsidy scheme, Mr Alfred WONG advised as follows:

  1. The existing Student Travel Subsidy Scheme (STSS) provided eligible students above the age of 12 with subsidies equivalent to half of their average travelling expenses incurred by taking public transport from their home to school. Such assistance was broadly comparable to current concessionary fares offered by public transport companies to children below the age of 12.
  2. According to rough estimation, about 100,000 kindergarten and primary students would be eligible under the subsidy scheme proposed by Mr CHEUNG. If a per capita subsidy of $80 was to be provided, additional funds amounting to $70 million might be required. This would have resources implications on the Administration.

20. Mr Joshua LAW expressed some reservation on the policy basis of providing travel subsidies to school children under the age of 12 as they were already offered half-fare by public transport companies. Further subsidy by the Government might result in duplication of assistance for the same purpose. Moreover, on the operational aspect, since the fees of school bus varied and were not subject to regulation, it would be difficult to propose a reasonable subsidy amount. He said that Mr CHEUNG's proposal would have important policy implication and hence, would require detailed study.

21. Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong contended that as the majority of school children were taking school buses instead of public transport, it was not likely that they could benefit from both concessionary fares and government subsidies, if the latter was available. Moreover, the estimated cost for implementing the proposed scheme was very low as compared to the vast amount of $200 million and over $1 billion spent on the STSS and the LSFS respectively. Some Members expressed support for Mr CHEUNG's proposal and urged the Administration to explore its feasibility and work out the costs involved to facilitate further discussion by the Panel. EMB/

22. As regards the provision of escorts on school buses carrying primary and kindergarten pupils , Dr Ernest LEE advised that under the Administration's proposed scheme, such a measure would be implemented as a licensing condition in the Passenger Service Licence. In order to avoid disruption of school bus service when the escort failed to turn up, the TD advised that bus operators should draw up a list of persons who could help out in such a situation. There would be no special criteria for the escort except that the person should be an adult and capable of performing the required duties of an escort.

23. Responding to Mr CHEUNG's views, Mrs Helen YU reiterated that the ED had all along attached utmost importance to the safety of school transport. Guidelines had been issued to schools and disseminated to all parties concerned to enhance their safety awareness and to ensure observance of the safety rules. She considered that action could be taken even prior to introduction of statutory requirements. The ED would therefore urge for closer co-operation between parents and school authorities through Parent-Teacher Associations and the Home School Co-operation Committee and enlist parents' participation in providing a roster of escorts for mutual help. ED would also raise the subject in the meetings of District staff with school principals.

24. At the request of the Chairman, Mr Anthony TONG undertook to provide information on School Bus Service Committees set up in schools since July 1996 for monitoring school transport services.ED

25. Concerning Mr CHEUNG's proposal on restricted zones and designated school bus stops, Dr LEE made the following points:

  1. The TD had reservation on blanket opening of all restricted zones to school buses as this might have adverse impact on road safety and transport management. The present arrangement where application of special permit for boarding and alighting school children in restricted zones was considered on a case-by-case basis had proved effective and so far, about 600 permits had been issued to bus operators.
  2. The special need of school buses would be taken into account when setting new restricted zones and the Police would maintain flexibility in its enforcement against traffic infringements on school buses.
  3. A pilot scheme to designate stops for school buses was being implemented in a number of public housing estates and the results were satisfactory. The scheme would be extended to private residential estates and, after consultation with the District Boards concerned, to other residential areas.
  4. The TD would maintain close liaison with the trade in implementing various improvement measures to enhance the safety of school transport.TD

26. Referring to Dr LEE's responses, Mr CHEUNG remarked that to better assess its effectiveness, the pilot scheme should be implemented in all of the three types of residential areas at the same time. Hon SZETO Wah concurred that the pilot scheme should be carried out in residential areas with busy traffic to test its viability as suitable designated stops were much more badly needed in these areas than in large residential estates. Dr LEE agreed to consider members' views.EMB/

27. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman asked the Administration to consider members' suggestion to provide travel subsidies to school children below the age of 12 and to designate stops for school buses and to revert to the Panel in three months' time.

28. The meeting ended at 12:40 p.m.
Legislative Council Secretariat
7 December 1996

Last Updated on 14 August 1998