LegCo Paper No. CB(1)933/96-97
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)
Ref : CB1/PL/ED/2

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting held on Friday, 17 January 1997 at 10:45 a.m. in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

    Dr Hon Anthony CHEUNG Bing-leung (Chairman)
    Hon CHEUNG Hon-chung (Deputy Chairman)
    Hon SZETO Wah
    Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
    Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
    Hon IP Kwok-him
Members attending :
    Hon LAW Chi-kwong
    Dr Hon John TSE Wing-ling
Members absent :
    Hon Henry TANG Ying-yen, JP
    Dr Hon LAW Cheung-kwok
Public officers attending :
    Items IV and V

    Mr Joshua C K LAW, JP
    Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower
    Mr Ros K T LAM
    Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower
    Mrs Helen C P LAI YU, OBE, JP
    Director of Education
    Mr K K CHONG
    Assistant Director of Education
    (Planning and Research)
    Mr David PUN
    Assistant Director of Education
    Mrs Ruth LAU
    Chief Student Discipline Officer

    Item IV

    Mr Daniel SIN
    Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare
    Miss Johanna TSAO
    Chief Social Work Officer
Attendance by invitation :
    Item IV

    Dr HAU Kit-tai
    The Chinese University of Hong Kong
    Faculty of Education
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

1. The Chairman informed members that the minutes of the Panel meeting held on 20 December 1996 would be issued to members for confirmation as soon as possible.

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, 21 February 1997 at 10:45 a.m. -

  1. Future development of the Hong Kong Institute of Education; and
  2. Four-year university curriculum.

It was agreed that representative(s) of the Institute should also be invited to take part in the discussion of item (a).

3. Responding to Mr SZETO Wah’s enquiry, the Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower (DS for E & M) undertook to check the present position of the review on the question of school bus subsidies and if possible, to provide an interim report.EMB

III Information papers issued since last meeting

(LegCo Paper No. CB(1) 644/96-97)

4. The Panel noted that a joint committee’s study report on the Secondary School Places Allocation System had been issued for members’ general information.

IV Suicide by students

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1) 699/96-97(01), (02); CB(1) 706/96-97(01))

5. In explaining the Administration’s position on the issue, the Director of Education (D of E) pointed out that adolescent suicide was a multi-dimensional community problem affecting not just students but also youth in general. Concerted effort from various sectors including school, family, the media the community and Government was necessary to tackle the problem. The Assistant Director of Education (Services) (AD/Serv) added that apart from investigation into student suicide cases by the Education Department (ED), the branches and departments involved in student/youth services had developed a four-level comprehensive prevention programme to address the problem as presented in the Administration’s paper.

6. At the Chairman’s invitation, Dr HAU Kit-tai introduced his paper and highlighted the following points -

  1. The suicidal rate of adolescent in Hong Kong was much lower than those of adult and elderly persons. The increase in divorce rate or other sociological changes had not brought about an increase in youth suicide. It would therefore be incorrect to establish a causal link between family/social problems and student suicide.

  2. There was a sudden upsurge of student suicidal attempts in recent years. There were clustered occurrences of suicide cases within a short period of time following wide media coverage on cases of adolescent suicides.

  3. Foreign research indicated that curriculum-based suicide prevention programmes were not effective in dealing with adolescent suicide as they might have the effect of normalising the behaviour, thus turning it into a viable alternative for resolving problems. Studies had shown that adolescent suicide could be better dealt with by other types of prevention programmes or through psychiatric treatment.

  4. It was necessary to provide more pre- and in-service counselling training for teachers to better equip them in handling students’ social and emotional problems.

Relationship between the media and adolescent suicide

7. Some members expressed grave concern about the possible impact of excessive and sensational media coverage of adolescent suicide in triggering more suicides. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was also concerned about a growing number of suicide victims in the younger age group, which might be the result of an imitational impact of the mass media on young children. Members considered that the media should be more vigilant and exercise greater self-discipline in its reporting of adolescent suicide.

8. While sharing members’ concern about the possible impact of the media, Dr YEUNG Sum cautioned against attributing the problem to a single cause and stressed that it was also necessary to examine other underlying causes including family and school circumstances, support system for children etc.

9. Responding to members’ views, D of E and AD/Serv made the following points-

  1. Despite thorough study, the Administration had not been able to identify any causal effects of the media on student suicide although some precipitating factors were discernible in each case.

  2. No obvious pattern on the clustered occurrences of suicide cases had been observed and there was no correlation between the presence of clusters and a rise in the total number of suicide cases in the same year.

  3. Government departments would continue to provide programmes for prevention, youth & parent counselling and teacher training. Positive and healthy leisure activities were also organised for young people.

10. On Mr CHEUNG’s concern about the young age of suicide victims, Dr HAU advised that although high suicidal rate of children below ten years old had been observed in some western countries, the problem was comparatively less serious in Hong Kong and had only become prevalent in recent years. Concerning the role of the media in countering the problem, Dr HAU said that sustained communication with media workers was necessary to enhance their awareness of the negative effects of overly vivid and detailed coverage on adolescent suicide cases.

Policy and measures to deal with adolescent suicide


11. On formulating a policy on dealing with adolescent suicide, Mr SZETO Wah shared Dr HAU’s view and considered that the Administration’s existing strategy was inappropriate as it had over-emphasized the linkage of social and educational problems with suicide. As a result, suicidal behaviour was often normalized and sympathized with. He opined that students should be taught that suicide was an irresponsible act and even a social crime which should be censured.

(Note: For purpose of clarification, the Administration informed members in the latter part of the meeting that suicide was no longer a criminal offence under section 33A of the Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap. 212).)

12. Mr IP Kwok-him and the Deputy Chairman were of the view that the most effective solution for the problem was to cultivate in students a positive attitude towards life and a responsibility for the community. They opined that sustained education programmes to this effect should be launched rather than relying on existing short-term publicity campaigns.

13. On the Welfare side, the Administration stressed that the focus was on tackling the problems of youth at risk. The objective was to help young people develop positive attitude towards life through various social work support services carried out by the Social Welfare Department and various subvented non-governmental organisation (NGOs).

14. Acting Principal Assistant Secretary for Health and Welfare said that the Director of Social Welfare chaired a Working Group on Services for Youth at Risk which was tasked to look into various problems faced by young people and, by reviewing various services, make recommendations to tackle those problems. The Working Group comprised representatives of relevant Government departments, policy branches and NGOs, and reported to the Coordinating Committee on Welfare for Children and Youth at Risk chaired by the Secretary for Health and Welfare. In reply to a member, the Chief Social Work Officer (Youth) added that the Working Group on Services for Youth at Risk formed under the Committee had commissioned the "Breakthrough" to develop a screening tool to identify early those young people who might be at risk so that timely assistance could be provided. The study was being finalized and the Working Group was considering to conduct a pilot scheme in schools.


15. Dr John TSE remarked that insufficient resources had been provided to tackle the problem of adolescent suicide and that voluntary agencies providing services for youth at risk were not adequately subsidised. He urged the Administration to consider allocating more resources to provide counselling training for teachers, to increase students’ awareness of their emotional problems, especially their understanding and management of depression, as well as to further enhance the Whole School Approach with a view to involving the entire school in helping troubled students.

16. Addressing Dr TSE’s concerns, D of E and DS for E & M re-iterated that the Administration was committed to solving the problem of adolescent suicide. Instead of relying solely on the provision of financial and manpower resources, moral and emotional support and co-operation from other sectors, especially the family and the community as well as schools and teachers, were also essential to bring about effective results. Young people themselves must also open up and communicate with others so that they might offer help.

17. On major services provided by ED for teachers, students, parents and schools, the Chief Student Discipline Officer (CSDO) made the following points-

  1. Besides pre-service training, short courses, seminars and workshops were run for in-service teachers to enhance their awareness of the problem of student suicide and strengthen their counselling and communication skills. Resource Package, teaching kits and help hot-lines were available to better equip teachers.

  2. Apart from school-based talks and the introduction of a new school subject on "General Studies" in the primary school curriculum, the ED had also commissioned the Department of Psychology of the University of Hong Kong to introduce a peer support programme in about 20 pilot schools.

  3. As regard assistance for parents, ED had encouraged schools to set up parent-teacher associations to strengthen home-school liaison. A pilot Parents’ Centre was being set up to provide additional support for these associations and to further promote parents’ education.

  4. Support services were provided to assist schools to adopt a Whole School Approach to create a positive, caring and inviting school environment where troubled students could turn for help.

DS for E & M said that the Administration would, if necessary, discuss with the Hong Kong Institute of Education on strengthening the provision of counselling training for pre-service teachers.

Other Concerns

18. Responding to the Deputy Chairman’s view that religious beliefs might help students to develop a positive outlook on life, Dr HAU pointed out that although a lower suicidal rate was found in some religious countries, a direct link between religion and suicide could not be established. CSDO added that no obvious pattern on the religious belief of the suicide students had been observed. Upon the request of the Deputy Chairman, D of E undertook to provide further information on the religious background of the schools of the suicide students in recent years. It was noted, however, that this might not have any relevance to the issue.

19. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman said that members in general considered that the media should be more vigilant in reporting suicide cases in order not to generate an adverse consequence of triggering more suicides. He also urged the Administration to provide adequate resources to deal with the problem in a comprehensive manner.ED

V Education for Chinese immigrant children

(LegCo Paper Nos. CB(1) 699/96-97(03); CB(1) 706/96-97(02) (Chinese version tabled at the meeting))

School placement assistance

20. Members expressed concerns on the placement assistance provided for newly arrived Chinese immigrant children (CIC). Referring to complaints they had received, members were doubtful about the effectiveness of services offered by the ED’s Central Placement Unit (CPU) and District Education Offices (DEO). Dr YEUNG Sum urged the ED to adopt a proactive approach to contact parents of CIC and to follow-up every case. Mr LAW Chi-kwong re-iterated his earlier proposal to set up a central school placement scheme to provide more effective service to CIC.

21. Addressing members’ concerns, D of E, AD/Serv and Assistant Director of Education (Planning and Research) made the following points-

  1. The CPU started its operation in April 1996 when leaflets on ED services, with reply slips, were distributed at arrival check-points. Reply slips completed by parents of CIC requesting placement assistance were distributed to the appropriate DEOs for follow-up action and any difficult placement cases would be handled by the CPU. So far, the DEOs were able to place CIC in schools within 21 days from the receipt of a request.

  2. Where necessary, the DEO would also assist CIC over 15 years of age to find suitable places in ordinary schools or to receive prevocational or vocational training. Schools would normally provide admission tests for CIC aged 15 or above to determine the appropriate school level for placement.

  3. ED had adopted a proactive approach in offering placement assistance to CIC. Besides following up placement requests on reply slips, DEOs also kept frequent contact with parents who approached the offices direct for assistance. Parents were also strongly advised to contact DEOs for further assistance if they encountered any difficulties.

    (Post-meeting note: The Administration confirmed that the DEOs did bring up cases for automatic checks as to whether the children had been placed.)

  4. On the proposal of a central school placement scheme for CIC, complex problems such as the difference in curriculum and academic standards between local and mainland school systems must first be resolved.

22. Addressing Mr SZETO Wah’s suggestion to reduce subsidies for schools which had bad records of refusing to admit CIC, D of E reiterated that the ED adopted a persuasive approach to facilitate the placement of CIC rather than resorting to compulsory allocation as coercion could be detrimental to the child’s position in the school. Reduction of subsidy would affect other students in the school concerned. To facilitate the ED’s follow-up action on unco-operative schools, parents were provided with a form on which they could record the school(s) which had rejected their applications for admission.

23. On the Deputy Chairman’s concern about the inconvenience caused to CIC by cross-district placement, D of E advised that subject to availability of suitable places, CIC would be referred to schools in their own district. If the CIC had integrated well into the school outside their district, it might not be advisable for them to revert to a school within their district when vacancies arose.

Support services

24. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed grave concern about the cost-effectiveness of the Extension English Programme as surveys revealed that more than 70% of the CIC encountered difficulty in learning English in schools and many of them had to repeat or demote as a result. He urged the Administration to consider running special, intensive, whole-day short courses to provide CIC with the necessary induction and English language training before they were formally admitted into local schools.

25. Members present at the meeting supported Mr CHEUNG’s proposal and asked the Administration to consider introducing a pilot scheme. Mr LAW Chi-kwong remarked that it was important to equip CIC with the adaptative ability before they could be integrated into mainstream education. CIC experienced a lot of frustration when they were repeatly turned away by schools and when they failed to catch up with their studies. He did not see any problem in the provision of special classes/schools targeted at CIC to facilitate their early integration into the local community.

26. Responding to Mr CHEUNG’s proposal and Mr LAW’s views, D of E and AD/Serv made the following points-

  1. Basic induction programmes were provided by other Government Departments and NGOs to help newly arrived CIC to adapt to the local environment. The ultimate objective of providing educational support services for CIC was to help them to integrate into the local education system as early as possible. Hence, Mr CHEUNG’s proposal to develop ‘special’ classes or schools for CIC might not help their early integration.

  2. At present, many induction and extension programmes organised by NGOs were provided within schools for the convenience of the participants.

  3. Nevertheless, the ED had been reviewing CIC services, especially on English lanuguage classes. ED would further consider Mr CHEUNG’s proposal and explore with NGOs the feasibility of expanding school-based remedial and support services for CIC.

Education opportunities for CIC aged 15 or above

27. To provide opportunities for CIC aged 15 or above to continue their studies in local subsidised schools, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong suggested that the Administration should consider holding a common examination for CIC who had completed Secondary 3 (S3) in Mainland China and to allocate subsidised S4 places to those who could pass the examination. Where the CIC concerned was below 19 years of age but had attained S5 standard in Mainland China, he should be allowed to sit for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE) as a private candidate.ED

28. Addressing Mr CHEUNG’s proposal, D of E and AD/Serv advised as follows-

  1. Under the existing Junior Secondary Education Assessment (JSEA) System, eligible S3 leavers of JSEA participating schools would be allocated subsidised S4 places on the basis of their internal assessments and parental choice. As there was no centrally administered public examination for the purpose of allocating subsidised S4 places, it was not possible to place non-JSEA newly arrived CIC on the basis of their performance in such examination. ED would examine the possibility of designing some standard test for school assesment.ED
  2. Newly arrived CIC could sit for the HKCEE as private candidates if they had reached the age of 19 by 1 January in the year of the examination. ED would raise with the Hong Kong Examination Authority Mr CHEUNG’s proposal of lowering the age requirement for CIC candidates as this was in their purview.

29. Summing up the discussion, the Chairman concluded that to facilitate early integration of CIC into the local school system, the Administration should strengthen various services offered to these children and to consider members’ views and proposals seriously.


VI Any other business

30. The meeting ended at 12:50 p.m.

Legislative Council Secretariat
22 February 1997

Last Updated on 14 August 1998