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Emigration, low admissions force HK Catholic school closure

Observers warn more schools will have to cease operations if current trends continue
Students of Church-run Tak Nga Primary School in Hong Kong are seen in this file image. The authorities decided to close the school gradually by 2028 due to a decline in student admission and lack of qualified staff caused by an emigration wave

Students of Church-run Tak Nga Primary School in Hong Kong are seen in this file image. The authorities decided to close the school gradually by 2028 due to a decline in student admission and lack of qualified staff caused by an emigration wave. (Photo: Tak Nga Primary School website)

Published: March 23, 2023 07:00 AM GMT
Updated: March 23, 2023 07:13 AM GMT

A Catholic school in Hong Kong announced it will wind up operations gradually by 2028 due to a decline in student admissions caused by a falling birth rate and a staff shortage resulting from an ongoing emigration wave, says a report.

The 63-year-old Tak Nga Primary School in the Kowloon area issued two separate notices to parents and alumni on March 21 to inform them about the decision, South China Morning Post reported on March 23.

This is the first school in the former British colony that is likely to close since the authorities enacted the Beijing-imposed national security law in 2020 to suppress dissent and a strong pro-democracy movement, media reports say.

The school, run by the Sisters Announcers of the Lord, said that the decision was made as the school has been grappling with low student admissions and recruiting qualified staff to manage it.

“Since 2018, the school has failed to admit sufficient pupils because of the falling birth rate in Hong Kong, and the problem is further aggravated by an emigration wave in recent years,” reads a notice.

“We have no choice, and are reluctant, to finally bid farewell to fellow residents after more than 60 years,” the notice said.

Established in 1960 by Salesian Priest Father Joseph Cucchiara the school is run by nuns who belong to the Salesian congregation and were engaged in missionary activities in Hong Kong since 1954.

The school’s sponsoring body in the notice has informed that the closure of the school will be in a “gradual and orderly manner after prudently considering various factors” ensuring that students' studies are not interrupted.

“We promise [that] the current pupils can continue to enjoy the best learning resources and complete their primary studies without being affected,” the notice said.

Tak Nga Primary School is a private campus that charges an annual tuition fee of HK$42,000 (US$5,350) which is higher than schools run by the Hong Kong government.

Unlike government schools which receive financial subsidies and support, private schools rely entirely on the tuition fees collected from students.

Dion Chen, chair of the Hong Kong Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council stated that the serious decline in the student population in the Hong Kong school system is a direct result of the region’s low birth rate.

“Currently, there are around 50,000 students signing up for [Form One] every year. But the government figures last month showed that there were only 32,500 babies born last year,” Chen said.

“We cannot rule out that more schools will have to cease operations in the future,” Chen warned.

The official also pointed out that the emigration of families from Hong Kong also contributes to the decline in new admissions and increases the number of students quitting school.

“Private schools will suffer from fewer resources when students ranging from low to high grades quit,” Chen said.

The opening of various visa schemes to obtain citizenship in countries such as Britain, Canada, and Australia in response to Beijing’s imposition of the national security law became a catalyst of the mass exodus to these countries, reports say.

In the 2021-22 academic year around 5,000 students left kindergartens, while around 10,000 and 15,000 students quit primary and secondary schools respectively, South China Morning Post reported.

Official primary school figures released earlier in 2022 showed that there were 70 fewer classes across 60 schools during the academic year. More than 4,000 teachers have left their jobs in the past academic year in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong education bureau has advised parents who face financial issues or want to transfer their children from private schools to contact regional education bureau offices for guidance.

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