Oral Question on Legislative Council Meeting – Sister School Scheme

LCQ4: Sister School Scheme

Question by the Hon Chan Chun-ying :

The “Sister School Scheme” (“the Scheme”) was launched in as early as 2004, and currently about 780 publicly-funded primary and secondary schools have established over 2 100 sister school pairs (“SSPs”) with Mainland schools, with one local school forming SSPs with about 2.7 Mainland schools on average. Local schools participating in the Scheme may apply for the “Grant for the Sister School Scheme” (“the Grant”). Moreover, the 2022 Policy Address has mentioned that the Government’s aim is to increase the number of local schools participating in the Scheme by 10% within this year. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1)of the respective current numbers of local schools which (i) have not established any SSP with Mainland schools, (ii) have established SSP with only one Mainland school, (iii) have established SSPs with two Mainland schools, and (iv) have established SSPs with three or more Mainland schools, and whether such distribution is in line with the authorities’ expectations; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2)of the respective numbers of sister schools which organized exchange activities in each of the past three years, the forms and contents of the activities concerned, and whether the Government provided special support for the local schools concerned; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(3)apart from the Grant, of the measures in place to encourage more schools to participate in the Scheme, so as to achieve the growth target as set out in the Policy Address?

Reply by the Secretary for Education, Dr Choi Yuk-lin:

The Sister School Scheme (the Scheme) has been serving as an important platform to facilitate exchanges between Hong Kong and Mainland schools since its inauguration in 2004. With different stakeholders’ staunch support, schools in Hong Kong and the Mainland have developed a mature and stable platform through the Scheme, through which schools can conduct rich and multi-faceted exchanges at school management, teacher and student levels based on individual schools’ development goals. All along, the Scheme has been widely acclaimed by the school sector and society. Schools generally consider that the Scheme can effectively facilitate the development of Hong Kong and Mainland Schools, promote cultural exchanges, enhance teachers’ professionalism, broaden students’ horizons and enhance their sense of national identity.

Our reply to the questions raised by the Hon Chan Chun-ying is as follows:

(1) and (2) To expand the network of sister schools, the Chief Executive announced in his Policy Address delivered in 2022 that the Education Bureau (EDB) would, on the basis of having about 780 publicly-funded schools in Hong Kong that have already formed over 2 100 sister school pairs with their Mainland counterparts at the very time, increase the number of schools which will be participating in the Scheme by 10 per cent to around 860 by the end of 2023. Over the past six months, the EDB had been making every effort to deliver the target. As of March 2023, a total of 848 public sector, Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) and special schools in Hong Kong had formed 2 349 sister school pairs with their Mainland counterparts. Among those, 296, 229 and 323 local schools formed one, two and three or more sister schools with their counterparts in the Mainland respectively. The number of publicly-funded schools in Hong Kong participating in the Scheme has already increased by about 70 since the announcement of the Policy Address.

To enable schools’ longer-term planning of their sister school activities, the EDB has been providing a recurrent grant for local public sector and DSS schools including special schools that have formed sister schools with their counterparts in the Mainland starting from the 2018/19 school year. The Grant for the Sister School Scheme (the Grant) is set at about $160,000 per school for the 2022/23 school year. Among the 848 schools in Hong Kong that have formed sister school pairs with their Mainland counterparts, a total of 820 schools have applied for the Grant to organise sister school activities. Schools may flexibly use the Grant in accordance with their school-based development needs to arrange exchange activities with different characteristics, such as school visits, student activities, seminars, teaching demonstrations, lesson evaluation, video conferencing, experience sharing and friendly competitions. With regard to the specific contents and details of the activities of individual schools, due to the wide range of modes and contents of the school-based exchange activities and under the principle and spirit of school-based management, schools are only required to submit the plans and reports of sister school exchanges to their respective Incorporated Management Committee or School Management Committee for endorsement in each school year. This ensures that the usage of the Grant is for students’ needs and reasonable. Schools are not required to provide the EDB with the details of all their exchange activities.

Over the years, the Scheme has been developing in a steady and positive direction. Despite the impacts of the epidemic and cross-boundary travel restrictions, enthusiasm for exchanges among sister schools had not been dampened. During the epidemic, a number of sister schools started “Cloud Exchanges” and continued a variety of activities, such as online exchanges of school management experiences and insights on classroom teaching, and collaborative lesson planning. Also, students were given many opportunities for online exchanges, including joint online lessons, sharing of school life, literature exchanges and pen-pal programmes, online debate competitions and student forums. Both the number of local schools participating in the Scheme and that of sister school pairs formed between Hong Kong and Mainland schools are on the rise every year. Professional development and sharing of the school sector have also promoted sister school exchanges in a direction that is more diversified and closer to schools’ development needs. The EDB’s expectation on the development of the Scheme has been met.

As the epidemic subsides and normal travel between the Mainland and Hong Kong resumes, sister schools have restarted physical visits while continuing online exchanges in parallel to achieve a dual-track development, so as to further strengthen mutual communication and interaction among sister schools and enhance the effectiveness of exchanges. Looking ahead, the EDB will continue to actively respond to our country’s aspirations on education. Our vision is to develop the Scheme into a comprehensive school-led exchange platform brimming with friendship, complementing Hong Kong-Mainland schools and enhancing the quality of education. We will also continue to maintain close collaboration with relevant Mainland departments to co-ordinate and organise more diversified exchange activities, including “Guangdong-Hong Kong Sister School Choral Speaking Competition” and “Summer Camp for the Sister Schools in the Greater Bay Area”. Building on the existing solid foundation, we will continue to vigorously promote the Scheme and encourage more local schools to join, with a view to fostering prosperous development of the Scheme.

(3) In addition to the provision of the Grant, the EDB renders assistance for local schools to establish sister schools with their counterparts in the Mainland, as well as providing them with professional support, which includes co-ordinating pairing-up arrangements, organising exchange activities, holding sharing sessions regularly and producing booklets, among others, to collect and disseminate good practices, so as to promote the Scheme. We also commission service contractors to provide schools with advice and support in relation to the arrangements on exchange activities. These efforts seek to promote more in-depth professional exchanges and multi-faceted collaboration, with a view to facilitating cultural exchanges and increasing teachers’ and students’ knowledge and understanding of the Mainland.