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Macau told to tackle under-enrolment in schools

With only 3,712 newborns in 2023, the autonomous region’s birth rate is projected to decline further
Visitors gather at a tourist spot during the Labour Day holiday in Macau on May 1. Children aged up to 14 among the local population fell from 14.5 percent in 2021 to 13.2 percent in 2023.

Visitors gather at a tourist spot during the Labour Day holiday in Macau on May 1. Children aged up to 14 among the local population fell from 14.5 percent in 2021 to 13.2 percent in 2023. (Photo: AFP)

 

Published: May 10, 2024 11:58 AM GMT
Updated: May 10, 2024 12:24 PM GMT

Politicians and educators in Macau have urged the government to enact schemes to attract more non-resident students to schools that face under-enrolment due to a declining birth rate.

The experts spoke at the government-appointed Central District Community Service Consultative Council on May 8, the Macau Post Daily (MPD) reported on May 9.

Some schools and educational organizations will face an existential crisis in the next five years,  sad civic leader Ao Ieong Kuong Kao.

“Liberalization of non-tertiary education enrolment in Macau is one of the effective ways to alleviate the current problem of under-enrolment,” Ao said.

Citing statistics, Ao pointed out that Macau’s birth rate is projected to decline further, with only 3,712 newborns in 2023, i.e., 632 fewer babies than in 2022, a record low since 1985.

The immigration of expatriates and their families due to Macau’s economic development and talent import policy will lead to the need for more non-higher education facilities, Ao emphasized.

“Therefore, opening up the non-tertiary education sector would provide the children with more opportunities, thereby tackling the problem of under-enrolment,” Ao said.

Ao suggested lowering the teacher-student ratio and maintaining a certain number of classes, easing the pressure of student enrolment, upgrading the quality and diversity of curricula, and strengthening parent-school cooperation, among other options.

Vong Kuoc Ieng, vice-president of the Chinese Educators Association of Macau, told the MPD that some “disadvantaged” schools face difficulties in enrolment due to the impact of the decrease of children among the population.

“Nearing the end of this year’s enrolment for kindergartens, the number of children enrolled in some schools is only single-digit, or only about a dozen, which will have unstable effects on the schools’ operating resources and teaching force,” Vong said.

While citing the continuously declining birth rate from 5,026 newborns in 2021 to just 3,712 last year, coupled with the recent opening of new schools, Vong warned of “a wave of class reductions in Macau’s non-tertiary education sector.”

Reducing classes will lead to “great concern for Macau’s ‘disadvantaged’ schools, which will be more difficult to operate,” Vong said.

Macau had earlier experienced a low birth rate during the 2002–2004 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the effect of which was negated due to the influx of several mainland students who moved here to study.

“The problem that we are facing this year and beyond is that local schools will not be able to enroll enough students because we don’t see many immigrants coming in, creating a greater challenge for the future,” Vong said.

“We should take advantage of the current low birth rate to launch more education reforms,” Vong said.

Macau government’s “centralized admission system for kindergartens” received registrations from 4,600 school-age children this year, the MPD reported.

Macau’s Statistics and Census Bureau’s latest data showed that the share of children aged up to 14 among the local population fell from 14.5 percent in 2021 to 13.2 percent in 2023.

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