Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Freewheeling Schools

It is shocking to find the Hong Kong government has been giving away
money to some schools in the city, only to find they have squandered
it in non education-related activities including buying stocks and
property. But worst of all, the government hasn't bothered to punish
them for the misuse of the money!

The funding is called Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) and it was
established in 1991 to help schools become more independent from the
government and let them decide their own curriculum and admission
rules as well as class sizes.

However a recent audit by the Director of Audit has found that all but
one of the 73 DSS schools have abused this subsidy with sloppy
management and poor accountability. And apparently this has been
happening for a long time too.

For example, Logos Academy in Tsueng Kwan O used HK$51 million to buy
stocks and HK$10 million to buy three properties as teachers'
quarters. Delia Memorial School used government funds to pay a HK$4.1
million tax bill and donated HK$5.1 million to a unspecified
beneficiary.

In addition, 22 schools failed to set aside the minimum of 10 percent
of their fee income for scholarships and free remission plans.

As the government hasn't been watching them through audits and then
issuing warnings and imposing punishment, many of these schools kept
demanding more money from parents for school fees.

It looks like a case of the mice will play when the cat is away, and
the biggest fault lies with the government, particularly the education
department.

Education Secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung admitted yesterday there
was not enough monitoring of the schools, but would not take full
responsibility because the problem had been festering for a long time.

"Many of the problems mentioned in the report were discovered by us
before," Suen said. "The report just [reiterated] them. In the past,
it took rather a long time to rectify the problems. We are loose and
tolerant. We don't want to adversely affect their teaching... so we
discussed the irregularities with them and did not issue warning
letters indiscriminately."

Excuse me? Just because the problem has been going on for so long,
doesn't mean you can't put your foot down and take action to stop this
behaviour. A school lending HK$5.1 million to someone is not a
problem? Or buying stocks instead of making improvements to the school
or hiring better teachers or buying better equipment?

The schools need to be accountable to the government because they get
money from it -- actually the taxpayers.

Which is why Director of Audit Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun is recommending
Suen take a more active role, but also parents should demand
accountability.

It's outrageous educational institutions are playing with money that
should be used to educate young minds. It has to stop NOW.

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