Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1974/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ED

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of Meeting
held on Friday, 12 February 1999 at 4:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members Absent :

Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP

Public Officers Attending :

Item I

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP Director of Education

Item II

Mr Patrick LI Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP Director of Education

Mr K B WAI Acting Assistant Director of Education (Allocation & Support)

Item III

Mrs Margaret CHAN Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP Director of Education

Mr S K LEE Acting Assistant Director of Education (Services)

Ms Eugenie WOO Senior Specialist (Educational Psychology/Special Education)

Item IV

Mrs Margaret CHAN Principal Assistant Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP Director of Education

Mr M Y CHENG Assistant Director of Education (Schools)

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Stanley MA Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

Confirmation of minutes of meeting
[LC Paper No. CB(2)1313/98-99]

1. The minutes of the meeting held on 16 November 1998 were confirmed.

I. Date of next meeting and items for discussion
[Paper No. CB(2)1291/98-99(01)]

2. Members agreed to re-schedule the next regular meeting from 15 March to 22 March 1999 to discuss the following -

  1. Provision of education for newly arrived children;

  2. Allocation of land for school development; and

  3. Training and development programme for school principals.

(Post-meeting note : The next meeting was subsequently re-scheduled to 30 March 1999 at 2:30 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building. At the request of the Administration, the Chairman had agreed to include the briefing on review of private school policy in the agenda.)

3. With regard to discussion items (a) and (b), Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung said that he would also like to know the proposal of height relaxation for school buildings. Members agreed that representatives from the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau and the Fire Services Department should also be invited to the discussion.

II. Physical education facilities for primary and secondary schools
[Paper No. CB(2)1291/98-99(02)] 4. Ms Emily LAU said that while Education Commission had affirmed the importance of physical education in its 1993 paper on "School Education in Hong Kong: A Statement of Aims", there were still inadequate activity space and facilities in schools to help students build up strong physique and develop their potentials in sports. In this respect, she asked whether the Education Department (ED) had compared the existing standards and facilities of schools in Hong Kong with those in overseas countries, in order to formulate improvement plans and targets for schools in Hong Kong. She suggested that ED should ask for larger sites for new schools to implement improvements to school facilities.

5. In response, Director of Education (D of E) said that ED did not have ready information on the planning standards for sports facilities in schools in overseas countries. She explained that because of constraints in land resources, it was difficult to provide physical education facilities of international standards in schools. She pointed out that improvements had been made in the latest designs for primary and secondary schools (Year 2000 design), which were achieved after much efforts and consultation with stakeholders in the education community. Given the shortage of supply of school sites in urban areas, ED would have to balance the need for more schools and the demand for better facilities and more activity space in schools. In this connection, the Administration was actively exploring the possibility of height relaxation for school buildings, in order to maximise utilisation of school sites to "create" more space for classrooms and other activities. D of E said that depending on students' preference and the facilities in schools, physical education activities could take different forms and some required less space such as Tai qi and rope-skipping. She added that schools of an old design had a greater problem as they were not provided with activity space of current standard, and ED was finding ways to improve the accommodation and facilities of these schools.

6. Ms Emily LAU asked about the number of physical education lessons in schools, and whether ED had set any standards or guidelines in this respect. D of E replied that schools were required to arrange two sessions of physical education each week for its students. However, schools sometimes could not follow the guidelines particularly during examinations. Ms LAU said that ED should ensure schools were in compliance with the guidelines.

7. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong was strongly of the view that sufficient space and basic physical education facilities should be provided for students. He pointed out that some schools were so small that the pupils could not even practise running on the playground. While agreeing that Hong Kong was not in a position to provide each school with a sports centre of international standard, he suggested that Government should at least provide one standard sports centre (with proper running tracks, field facilities and a swimming pool) in each school district for shared use by schools within the district. He considered it necessary to facilitate development of young talents in sports from early childhood. In this connection, Mr CHEUNG remarked that Hong Kong soccer team's performance in the last Asian Cup matches was disappointing, and that Hong Kong would soon lose its leading position in Asian soccer if there were still inadequate facilities for young children to develop their talents in soccer. He asked whether ED had any plans to stimulate students' interest in sport and enable students who had special talents in sport to have sport training while in school.

8. D of E responded that Mr CHEUNG's suggestion of providing a standard sports centre for each school district would require discussion with the Planning, Environment and Lands Bureau, but she had the impression that similar community facilities were already available on a district basis. She commented that some schools might find it too time-consuming for their students to travel to these sports centres for physical education. D of E shared Mr CHEUNG's concern that education should aim at balanced development of children and physical education was definitely an integral part of education. However, the present education system was rather examination-driven, and non-academic aptitudes and performance had not been given sufficient recognition in the community. She said that education issues were often inter-related; the primary task at the moment was to set priorities for the many educational issues under discussion, which were being dealt with by the Education Commission's current review on Aims of Education. Adm

9. Mr CHEUNG and Dr YEUNG Sum were dissatisfied with D of E's response. They said that the subject of balanced education had been discussed for several years and the importance of physical education had been affirmed by the Administration and the education community. As such, they urged the Administration to take concrete measures to implement the policy immediately, since promotion of physical education in schools could take place in parallel with the current review on Aims of Education. They considered that promotion of physical education should start in primary schools, while attitude change in the community would require concerted efforts of parents, schools and all stakeholders.

10. Concerning the small number of students taking physical education as a subject in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE), the Chairman asked whether this was caused by the lack of sport venues, and whether there were plans to include the subject in the Advanced Level examinations. Acting Assistant Director of Education (Allocation and Support) (Ag ADE/A&S) said that except for some old design schools, most schools nowadays were provided with adequate facilities and equipment for physical education. D of E added that it was basically the choice of students and parents whether to take the subject of physical education in HKCEE or not. The issue of including physical education in the Advanced Level examinations would depend on the universities' entry requirements.

11. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung indicated support of balanced education and early implementation of measures to promote physical education. Concerning the Year 2000 design for primary and secondary schools, he suggested provision of a multi-purpose activity hall cum gymnasium in addition to the school hall, so that physical activities could also take place during the rainy season. He further suggested ED to negotiate with the provisional municipal councils a discounted fee after 5 pm, for students who used the indoor games halls operated by these councils. With regard to schools of old design, he asked whether ED had any plans, such as the School Improvement Programme, to improve the facilities for physical education in these schools.

12. D of E noted Mr LEUNG's suggestion and said that an overall review of the sport facilities in schools would have substantial resource implications including increase in the provision of land for construction of new schools. She said that ED was actively exploring alternatives to improve the situation in schools of old design. In view of the space and design constraints, the direction would be to make better use of the community facilities to enhance physical education of students in these schools. Another option was to introduce shared use of sport facilities in schools of the same district.

13. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong commented that due to the design/space constraint of old-design schools, the School Improvement Programme could not help much in this respect. Some remedial measures were therefore necessary, for example, utilisation of existing community facilities and provision of a common sport centre for use by schools in the same school district. Dr YEUNG Sum considered that ED should co-ordinate the various improvements required in these schools in promoting physical education. As a start, he suggested the Administration to provide information on schools which currently lacked sport facilities, the existing arrangements for physical education in these schools and proposals of new initiatives to improve the situation. Ms Emily LAU also expressed support. In advising the Administration to provide the information paper, the Chairman cited the example that some schools in Shamshuipo did have a timetable for shared use of sports grounds in the district. D of E noted members' suggestions and undertook to provide the information.Adm

III. Services for children with specific reading and writing difficulties
[Paper Nos. CB(2)1247/98-99(01) and CB(2)1291/98-99(03)]

14. At the invitation of the Chairman, Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong briefed members on his discussion paper [Paper No. CB(2)1247/98-99(01)]. Mr CHEUNG cited his experience of teaching children with specific learning difficulties. He said it was difficult to know that a child had specific problems in reading and writing (known as SLD or Dyslexia) as the symptoms were unfamiliar to most teachers. As a result, these children were often mistakenly treated as lazy or unwilling to learn, and the lack of prompt assistance had hampered their learning progress and development. While recommendations had been made in the Board of Education's Report on Special Education in 1996 to enhance services for children with special educational needs, Mr CHEUNG said that there were still inadequate services at present for this category of children. He therefore suggested ED to introduce measures to enhance the understanding of SLD among teachers and parents, and to provide prompt services to identify and assist these children.

15. Acting Assistant Director of Education (Services) (Ag ADE/S) responded that ED had been conducting annual exercises in all primary schools to identify children who had significant learning difficulties including SLD children. Through responses to the Observation Checklist for Teachers distributed to schools in June every year, the Educational Psychologists of ED could identify Primary One students suspected of having significant learning difficulties. School-based assessment and follow-up professional services would then be provided to these students. Mr CHEUNG pointed out, however, that the questionnaire method might not be effective in the identification of SLD children as many teachers were not aware of the behavioural manifestation of SLD. He considered that a more systematic mechanism should be put in place to identify SLD children and provide follow up services at an early stage.

16. In response to Mr CHEUNG, Senior Specialist (Educational Psychologist/ Special Education) explained the existing assessment mechanism. She said that all Primary One teachers were requested to complete the checklist in the second term to give information on children suspected to have significant learning difficulties. Some items were provided to reflect problems in reading and writing, spatial orientation, co-ordination of motor activities, and attention/concentration. Specific examples were given in the questionnaires to guide the teachers in making the response. The Educational Psychologists of ED would complete their professional assessment based on teachers' feedback in the second school year. She added that apart from the annual identification exercise, pupils at other class levels suffering from SLD could be identified through vigilance of teachers/parents and referred to ED for assessment at any time.

17. Mr CHEUNG made two suggestions to improve the current assessment mechanism. Firstly, he suggested re-designing the Checklist for Teachers as some of the examples currently used were seldom tested or noticed by Primary One teachers. Secondly, he suggested early completion of the professional assessment within the year of Primary One so that remedial measures could start as early as Primary Two. He also asked whether teachers and parents could make referrals to the Educational Psychologists of ED at times other than the annual exercise. Senior Specialist of ED agreed that early identification and referral for assistance could help, but it would be prudent to observe the children for a reasonable period before labelling them as SLD children. She said that as Primary One children varied in their maturation rate, an assessment made too early might lead to false indicators, causing unnecessary anxiety to parents. She assured members that teachers could make referrals to the Educational Psychologists of ED any time.

18. Referring to the current pilot scheme of integrated education, Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung said that teachers should be equipped with the necessary professional knowledge and skills to deal with children with learning difficulties. There should also be a cultural change in the teaching profession and the community so that more proactive assistance could be provided to students with special needs. He appreciated that teaching children with learning difficulties would demand more time of the teachers and he asked whether ED would provide extra resources to teachers and schools in this connection. In response, ADE/S said that ED had made much efforts in public education and training of teachers, including publication of pamphlets to promote understanding of children with special educational needs. Senior Specialist added that induction training and school-based professional development programmes were organised to enhance teachers' knowledge and skills in this respect.

19. With regard to extra resources to reduce teachers' workload arising from special care for SLD children, D of E said that some schools performed better in the pilot scheme through team work and mutual assistance. She said that in the implementation of Target Oriented Curriculum (TOC), some schools also made more appreciable progress than the others. Nevertheless, she acknowledged the increased workload of teachers and she hoped the review of Aims of Education and the student-based approach could enable teachers to have more time for their professional duties. She assured members that ED would follow up individual cases with specific difficulties.

20. The Chairman advised ED to reinforce public education on helping children with special needs. He said that a recent television programme on the subject was very informative and it could be used as promotional material. The Administration noted the suggestion. Adm

IV. Registration and inspection of kindergartens
[Paper No. CB(2)1291/98-99(04)]

21 The Chairman expressed concern about recent incidents involving operation of unregistered kindergartens, and the over-enrolment in and excessive fees charged by kindergartens. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong shared his concern and asked about the registration and monitoring/inspection system for kindergartens. He queried ED for tolerating the existence of unregistered kindergartens as this would encourage similar illegal practices.

22. D of E admitted that ED had been rather benevolent about prosecuting unregistered kindergartens in the interest of the parents and pupils affected. She said that there were two reasons for adopting the approach. Firstly, an order to close a kindergarten would definitely cause much disturbance to the pupils and parents concerned. Secondly, the maximum penalty of a fine of $5000 and an imprisonment of one year could not provide sufficient deterrence to operators of unregistered kindergartens. To prevent recurrence of recent incidents, ED would adopt a more proactive approach in enforcing registration of kindergartens by taking the following preventive measures -

  1. each kindergarten must first register with ED and obtain a provisional registration certificate or a registration certificate before operation;

  2. the kindergarten operator would be advised of the approximate time for processing its registration which would be completed within three months as agreed with the Buildings Department;

  3. ED would advise kindergartens not to start enrolment until they have obtained a certificate from the Buildings Department of compliance with the safety requirements;

  4. ED would publicise the list of kindergartens which had been registered or being registered with ED, and the list would be available for public inspection; and

  5. kindergartens would be advised to display in prominent places their registration certificates showing the registration number and the student capacity of each classroom.

23. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong expressed appreciation that ED had the courage to admit its failure in strictly enforcing the regulations regarding registration of kindergartens. He urged ED to ensure that no similar incidents would recur in future.

24. Mr CHEUNG also expressed concern about the curriculum for pre-school education. He asked whether ED had issued guidelines to kindergartens or conducted inspections to ensure that the contents of the curriculum were appropriate to the age of pupils. He was concerned that due to keen competition, more kindergartens had designed curricula which were too difficult or advanced for pre-school children.

25. D of E responded that ED had issued guidelines on the curriculum for registered kindergartens, and the content was definitely not that difficult. She pointed out that ED had no statutory power to cancel the registration of a kindergarten on the basis of its non-compliance with ED's curriculum guidelines. As operation of kindergartens was basically market-driven, some kindergartens might have adopted a relatively difficult curriculum in order to meet parents' expectations. However, ED inspectors would give advice during inspections on the contents of subjects taught in kindergartens.

26. The Chairman expressed concern that some famous kindergartens charged exorbitant fees, and he wanted to know the regulatory measures in this respect. He also asked whether kindergartens were allowed to charge different levels of fees on the basis of different languages of teaching, for example, whether a higher fee could be charged for the English class than the Chinese class. Assistant Director of Education (Schools) replied that it was illegal for kindergartens to charge fees above the level approved by ED. He advised that the kindergartens should refund to the parents the excessive fee paid above the approved fee. He also clarified that ED encouraged mother-tongue teaching for pre-school children and had issued guidelines in this respect. Responding to the Chairman's enquiry about the differential fee system for English and Chinese classes in some kindergartens, ADE/S undertook to provide a written response. Adm

27. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung referred to the recent press reports that ED was aware of the operation of unregistered kindergartens, and questioned why ED did not take early action to enforce the relevant provisions of the Education Ordinance and Regulations. ADE/S responded that ED had been following up the reported case and issued warnings to the kindergarten on the irregularities. The case had now been referred to the Police for prosecution. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong informed the meeting that the Buildings Department could issue the certificate of compliance shortly after his visit to the unregistered kindergarten which was reported by the press. He therefore questioned the efficiency and determination of the government departments concerned in enforcing the registration of kindergartens if the press had not revealed these irregular cases.

28. ADE/S reiterated that ED had previously adopted a benevolent approach in the registration of kindergartens. In view of the manpower implications in initiating legal actions, and the disturbance to parents and pupils caused by closure of the kindergartens, the inspectors were previously not inclined to take prosecutions unless these kindergartens were definitely incapable of meeting the registration requirements. For kindergartens which only required minor improvements or alterations to meet the registration criteria, they were allowed to continue operation while carrying out the required improvements. He assured members that the majority of some 700 kindergartens in existence were in compliance with the registration requirements, and that ED would now adopt a stricter approach in enforcement.

29. Dr YEUNG Sum expressed support of taking enforcement actions against unregistered kindergartens. He commented that the phenomenon was largely attributed to the fact that kindergartens were not subvented by Government and they therefore enjoyed a high degree of autonomy in their operation. As pre-school education was particularly important to the development of children and it was more expensive to introduce remedial measures at the secondary and tertiary educational levels, he hoped Government would bring all kindergartens under the regulation of the Code of Aid to ensure teacher quality and the standard of facilities in kindergartens. The Administration took note of his views. Adm

30. Concerning over-enrolment in some kindergartens, the Chairman asked about the measures adopted by ED in tackling or preventing the problem. ADE/S said that ED inspectors would detect over-enrolment during their inspections and would refer to the Police if irregularities were found. The Chairman asked whether ED had plans to increase the frequency of inspection of kindergartens since there were increased incidence of over-enrolment. ADE/S replied that apart from annual inspections, follow-up visits would be made to those kindergartens suspected to have over-enrolment or other irregularities. If a kindergarten was found to have admitted students above its approved capacity, it would be asked to rectify in the first instance. If the situation did not improve, ED would issue warning letters to the kindergarten requiring transfer of the "surplus" students to other kindergartens. Where the transfer was not completed within a reasonable period of time, ED would initiate prosecution action against the kindergarten concerned.

31. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong suggested that surprise inspections should be made by ED inspectors in order to find out the true enrolment situation in kindergartens. Mr LEUNG Yiu-chung added that prevention is better than cure, and ED should require kindergartens to forward enrolment reports to ED periodically. ADE/S noted the suggestions. Adm

32. The Chairman expressed concern that, with the influx of newly arrived children from the Mainland, there would be a greater demand of kindergarten places. It was therefore necessary for ED to be more vigilant of the operation of unregistered kindergartens and increase the frequency of inspections to ensure that kindergartens were in compliance with the requirements. D of E responded that ED would adopt a strict approach to enforce the relevant regulations and would take actions against those not in compliance. In addition, ED would publicize the list of registered kindergartens and those under registration, and re-design its inspection programme to focus on those high-risk categories. ED would consider cancellation of the registration if fraudulent practice was found in a kindergarten. She added that parents should also be vigilant of the malpractice of kindergartens and they were welcome to check with ED in case of doubt.

V. Any other business

33. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
14 May 1999