Parents and teachers of pupils affected by the closure of a Hong Kong international school have called on the government to give it a new site, saying students are struggling in overcrowded classes.
Tsung Tsin Think Academy, under the Think International Schools Group, had been renting a space in Cheung Sha Wan from Tsung Tsin Middle School since September 2015. The Education Bureau shut it down earlier this month over its failure to properly register the school’s name.
Following the closure, about 120 Primary Four to Primary Six students were transferred to one of the group’s campuses on Boundary Street in Kowloon Tong to share classrooms with 170 Primary One to Primary Three students.
The combined student body of about 290 is squeezed into 11 classrooms, with the average class size growing from 17 to 28.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, parents and teachers complained about overcrowding.
“I can’t accept this studying environment,” said Annie Chong, father of a Year Five student. “The students are innocent. We want a suitable, comfortable and safe environment.”
Alex Tan, who sent his three children to the school, tearfully read out a gratitude letter written by his elder son to the teachers. He said his son withdrew from the school after three of his teachers left.
“Today I’m here to fight for my two children, who are in Primary Six and in Primary Three,” he said. “They have heard stories from my elder son how the government one day came to the school and stopped the teachers from teaching and stopped the students from learning.”
With more students on campus, there are not enough facilities or space for music, art and library lessons for all the students, the group said.
“Now we don’t have arts rooms that have as many pictures as before, or libraries that have as many books as before,” said Selana Fung, a music teacher at the Think school. “The lessened space has severely impacted the teaching.”
Apart from a squeezed learning environment, parents and teachers said they were worried about the education quality, as students of different year groups were mixed into the same classes, which they said was undesirable for learning.
To address the problem, parents and teachers called on the government to offer a new campus for the affected students, even if it was just a temporary one.
That request was echoed by education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen. He said it was the government’s responsibility to “protect the educational rights of every student”.
“Apart from the registration problem, is the students’ education be taken into consideration?” he said. “Under this circumstance, should the government not do its best to not interrupt the students’ education?”
Calling the controversy “a rare incident in Hong Kong’s education history”, Ip added: “Hopefully in the future, the government will take students’ education as a priority when dealing with similar situations.”
According to Robert Burns, the teachers’ representative, among all the primary students, only one or two had withdrawn from the school, and about 20 were considering joining other schools.
“This shows how much the students and parents want to stay with us, and how much they appreciate the education of the school,” he said.
The secondary school pupils resumed classes at the same Cheung Sha Wan site last week after the school reached an agreement with Tsung Tsin Middle School to register the students there. But only half of the 60 students showed up to classes.
The Education Bureau said that the Boundary Street campus was big enough to host all the primary students.
According to the bureau, school sites are social resources, and the bureau must address relocation demands from public schools with outdated campuses. In addition, if private schools that break the rules were given new sites, it would send the wrong message and would be unfair to schools that obey the law, the bureau said.