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A Foreboding Feeling

Dear Members,

After a period of three months, we can eventually take a breather. Today (29 April) is the sixth day in the past nine days when there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases. We all look forward to our life returning to normal soonest possible.

The proposal for the second round of the Anti-epidemic Fund was passed by the Legislative Council on on 18 April. We all have high expectations of it and hope that the Fund can help people in all sectors and tide them over their financial predicament. The education sector – mostly publicly funded –sustains relatively less economic loss but there are still many who are seriously affected. Rejecting any indolence and working diligently with all relevant parties, we have successfully fought for and achieved the following results:

1. a sum of $10,000 and tax relief for all Hong Kong permanent residents aged 18 or above (the Budget)

2. a one-off special anti-epidemic grant for all schools, ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, depending on their category and scope of operation (Education Bureau)

3. a one-off grant of $60,000 to $160,000 for kindergartens participating in the subsidy scheme and a grant of $80,000 for kindergartens not participating in the scheme (First Round of the Anti-epidemic Fund)

4. an extra one-off grant of $50,000 to $150,000 for special schools with dormitories (First Round of the Anti-epidemic Fund)

5. a one-off grant of $80,000 for private secondary and primary schools (Second Round of the Anti-epidemic Fund)

6. A one-off grant of $40,000 for tutorial schools (Second Round of the Anti-epidemic Fund)

7. A relief grant of $7,500 for qualified instructors, coaches, trainers and operators of interests classes engaged by schools (Second Round of the Anti-epidemic Fund)

8. An employee salary subsidy capped at $9,000 per month for 6 months for qualified employers, including those in the education sector (Second Round of the Anti-epidemic Fund).

It is a pity that in the second round of the Anti-epidemic Fund, there are no means to ensure that huge amounts of subsidies running to hundreds of millions of dollars provided to employers will not simply turn into their windfalls. Worse still, the Fund fails to provide reasonable subsidies for those who become unemployed due to the epidemic. We know that quite a number of teachers in private independent kindergartens have been laid off and are in urgent need of help but the Government requires them to – as with other unemployed people – apply for assistance under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme (CSSA), which disqualifies applicants whose family assets go beyond stipulated levels. For an individual who is single, what he/she can get is a meagre amount of slightly more than $2,000 a month. It is most regrettable that while spending more than $100 billion of our reserves, the Government refuses to meet the urgent needs of the people. We will continue to unremittingly strive for a third round of the Anti-epidemic Fund so as to help them and others (such as education centres) not yet covered by the Fund. We will also keep a close watch on the operations of kindergartens and other schools.

Whilst the COVID-19 epidemic has yet to be conquered, tempestuous waves keep coming in…

On 13 April, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) of the State Council and the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR (LOCPG) suddenly issued press releases expressing their views on the operation of the Legislative Council’s House Committee. This caused a furore with public opinions saying that matters relating to the Legislative Council should be settled by the Council itself and that What HKMAO and LOCPG had done violated Article 22 of the Basic Law and the ongoing commitment and constituted an interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

On April 18, the Information Services Department of the Government issued within one single night three successive press releases one amending the other. They went to the extent of overturning what the Government had stated in the past and publicly recognising that LOCPG has so-called ‘supervisory power’ over Hong Kong and is therefore well justified in intervening in Hong Kong's internal affairs! Not only does this blatantly violate the provisions of the Basic Law, it also contravenes the spirit of ‘One Country, Two Systems; Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong; and a High Degree of Autonomy’. This development is bound to impact various aspects of the entire community. It is important that the education sector also keep a close watch on developments, defend ‘One Country, Two Systems’, ‘Hong Kong People ruling Hong Kong’ and ‘a High Degree of Autonomy’ as well as safeguard the core values and lifestyles of Hong Kong people (including our education system). We would also urge HKMAO and LOCPG not to arbitrarily exceed their powers, so that the Hong Kong community can have a breather.

Finally, I would like to urge everyone to seize the last opportunity for registration as voters in the upcoming election and encourage relatives and friends to do so. Here is a link to the registration. The deadline for registration is fast approaching: 2 May.

A foreboding feeling
Day One of the 2020 HKDSE Examination Negative growth of total expenditure
on education is worrying
Adjust the ‘Life-wide Learning Grant’
to pay for cancellation or
rescheduling of study tours
Snapshots Speeches

Day One of the 2020 HKDSE Examination

The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination – postponed for one month due to the COVID-19 pandemic – started with Visual Arts on 24 April.

Apart from candidates, schools serving as examination centres were well prepared for HKDSE. On the first day of the HKDSE examination, I went to one of the examination centres, Carmel Secondary School, to see how candidates entered the examination centre. Candidates were first required to clean their hands with alcohol sanitizers. Teaching staff at the centre then measured their temperature and checked their health declaration forms. The school was also equipped with infrared body temperature measuring instruments.

Three candidates were found to have hyperthermia. Teaching staff in protective gear led them to a partitioned rest area. We couldn't help being anxious for them. Fortunately, after a short rest, the students’ body temperature returned to normal, and everyone was relieved.

The examination on the first day went smoothly in this school and in other examination centres. I would like to thank all schools, teachers and staff for the efforts they have made to ensure the smooth conduct of the examination and the health of candidates!

Negative growth of total expenditure on education is worrying

In view of the impacts of both the anti-amendment campaign and the COVID-19 pandemic, I suggested to the Financial Secretary earlier on that this year's budget had to focus on measures to ‘meet people’s urgent needs’ so as to tide them over the difficulties confronting them.

In the subsequently announced Budget, there are good measures such as distributing a cash allowance of $10,000 to every Hong Kong permanent resident over the age of 18 and providing SMEs with low-interest loans under the ‘SME Financing Guarantee Scheme’. These measures should be able to contribute towards meeting the urgent needs of some of our citizens.

However, while the growth of recurrent expenditure on education this year remains stable (7.2%), it is lower than the overall growth and it is surprising that there is a negative growth in total expenditure on education: a drop of 13.2%. Education is almost the only policy area suffering a reduction in total expenditure. Compared with an increase of 15.4% for Government’s overall expenditure, expenditure on education suffers a gap as wide as 28.6%. Expenditure on education is significantly far below the average increase in expenditure of other policy areas. Never before has this happened!

Total expenditure on education this year accounts for only 14.5% of the Government’s total expenditure, compared with 19.2% last year, representing a drop of 4.7%. This, coupled with the fact that there is only a minimal number of new measures in the Budget, is a clear reflection of the insufficiency of efforts given to the policy area of education.

We must remind the Government that education is an investment for our future. Only with continuous investments in education and improvements to the education environment can the education sector continue to nurture excellent talents for Hong Kong. The current decline in investment on education is indeed worrying.

Adjust the ‘Life-wide Learning Grant’ to pay for cancellation or rescheduling of study tours

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, quite a number of schools had to cancel or reschedule exchange tours or study tours, leading to travel agencies confiscating their deposits or imposing extra handling charges. The amount involved ranged from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars: a heavy burden on schools and parents.

I wrote to Secretary for Education YEUNG Yun-hung asking that the authorities review and adjust the scope of application of the ‘Life-wide Learning Grant’ as soon as possible, so that schools can use the amount of this year's grant to cover all relevant expenses. I also had meetings with school principals and with Mr Jason WONG, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong and Ms Alice CHAN, the Council’s Executive Director. I hope that the authorities would handle unreasonable cases and review the existing guidelines for the organisation of study tours and exchange tours by schools so that future situations similar to those encountered this year can be smoothly handled.

The one-off ‘Chinese History and Chinese Culture Grant’: EDB agrees to extend by one year the deadline for the return of any balance

In 2017, the Government launched a one-off ‘Chinese History and Chinese Culture Grant’, under which grants of $100,000 and $150,000 were respectively given to all public schools and direct subsidy primary and secondary schools (including special schools) so as to enable them to improve relevant teaching, with 31 August 2020 as the date for the return of any amount not yet used.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the date for class resumption remains unknown and relevant teaching activities in many schools have been cancelled. In this connection, I wrote to the Government seeking an extension of the deadline for the return of any balance. The Education Bureau has earlier on accepted my request and extended the deadline to 31 August 2021, which means that schools can continue to make use of the grant to promote Chinese history and Chinese culture in the current school year and the next.

Additional constructions for special schools: a cheque not yet honoured

In 2006, the Government announced reforming the academic structure of special schools at the rate of one Form per year, starting with Form 4 in 2009/10. As the new structure involves the addition of new classes and extra teaching staff, the Government undertook, at that time, to add classrooms and related facilities for schools.

With the lapse of ten years now, to what extent has the cheque been honoured? Why is it that nothing has happened to more than half of the schools involved? I have, all along, been chasing the Education Bureau on the number of outstanding cases. As shown in the video, the principal of the school in question has been under much pressure, students have to move from classrooms to classrooms every day and teachers are ‘forced’ to work in their self-made ‘sub-divided rooms’ or in the store room. The explanations in the video given by different Departments of the Government are also worthy of reflection.

Concern over a school sponsoring body installing CCTV on campus without consultation

A school sponsoring body has reportedly installed – without prior consultation with teachers and parents – in 25 of its kindergartens and nurseries closed-circuit television (CCTV) equipped with sound-reception and zooming functions to monitor, in an ‘omnidirectional’ and ‘zero-blind-spot’ manner, teachers’ rooms, classrooms, corridors, and gates.

I note that the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has issued guidelines recommending a reasonable balance between privacy and security when installing CCTV, but the guidelines stop short of recommending a rigorous consultation procedure and penalties if installations exceed security needs.

In response to my question, Personal Data Privacy Commissioner Stephen WONG said that the Office supervised installations of CCTV and had issued guidelines, but he was not sure whether the Office had received complaints about the kindergartens in question. If violations were found, prosecution would be taken should persuasion fail.

Citizens’ dissatisfaction with a significant increase in police manpower

The part of the Budget which is most unacceptable and unsatisfactory to our citizens relates to police expenditure, which, when compared with that of last year, soared by an astonishing 25% to $25.8 billion, an amount which exceeds the total expenditure of the other five disciplinary forces. Furthermore, the establishment of the Police Force is proposed to increase by 2,500, which is also close to the proposed increases of the other five disciplinary forces taken together. It is relevant to note that in Hong Kong, the ratio of police to citizens is reportedly the fifth highest in the world.

At a time when our community is torn apart and the Government has lost the trust of its people, a significant increase in manpower and equipment for the Police Force will only serve to fuel the conflict between the police and the people. The public has already, over a period of time, criticized the Government’s bias in favour of the police notwithstanding their abuse of power and indiscriminate arrests. The Government has not conducted any independent investigations, nor has it imposed any restraints on the police. On the contrary, the Government is now seeking to give more money and more manpower to the police. How can the problem be solved? .

23 April 2020: Council Meeting
The Budget: Disappointment over obvious regression in the area of education

17 April 2020: Finance Committee
Provision of relief measures for tutors engaged by schools through out-sourcing

9 April 2020: Special Meeting of Finance Committee
Need to smooth out, soonest possible, management manpower and remuneration for public primary schools

Representative of Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union
in Legislative Council,
Hon IP Kin-yuen
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