The protest march, on Sunday 7 November, was organised by the largest teaching union, HKPTU. The proposed cuts will result in the loss of 8,000 teaching jobs and the continuation of ridiculously large class sizes. (As an indicator of the state of the Hong Kong education system, most teachers were unable to attend due to their workload requiring them to mark assignments on a Sunday!)
The Hong Kong Secretary for Education, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, is planning these cuts due to a reduction in the number of children reaching secondary school age. Currently, class sizes in Hong Kong average over 30 (and in many schools 40-45). The government spends far less on education than the majority of developed countries, and yet average class sizes are 50% larger.
Teachers’ union protest in Chater Garden, Central, on 7 November 2010
Even without an increase in education spending, maintaining the same number of schools and teachers would enable schools to reduce class sizes to more acceptable levels. This would have the double benefit of reducing the workload of teachers (most of whom work between 60 and 70 hours a week), and also of improving the education of students who currently suffer from overcrowded classes.
A teacher at the demonstration, who is a member of Socialist Action (cwi in Hong Kong), pointed out the short sightedness of the government plans to close schools: “Intake is low at the moment. Birth rates dropped during the economic crisis and during SARS, but what will happen when they increase again? There won’t be the schools needed, and with class sizes which are already high will increase further.”
Teachers and students are overwhelmingly against the closures. More than 95% are opposed according to a recent survey. Rather than seeing this as an opportunity to lower class sizes and improve the education system for all, the neo-liberal government of Hong Kong sees this as a perfect way to increase cuts in education. We see this in every country in the world. From the United States to the United Kingdom, from China to Hong Kong, overpaid government officials are more than happy to make draconian cuts on the public education system while they send their own children to private schools and foreign universities. This while the people they are supposed to represent have no choice but to enroll their students in schools with unmanageable class sizes and overworked teachers.
Socialist Action received a very positive response from the teachers and students on Sunday. We sold several magazines and collected dozens of signatures on our petition, which calls on taking more action against proposed government cuts.
Socialist Action calls for:
- A maximum class size of 25 students
- Massive new investment in public sector schools
- Cut teachers’ working hours – expand teacher training, raise pay and conditions!
- For school democracy and a mass students’ union