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First day of school

Last week, I attended a closing ceremony of a children summer programme organised by a district organisation, in which a group of children from grass-roots families gave a lively music performance confidently. I learnt a few lyrics from them, and joined them in singing and dancing. Although they were small, their preparation and performance were impressive. I felt thankful to the voluntary organisations and volunteers for providing various activities and interest classes to grass-roots children, so that they can make the best use of the summer vacation to learn and experience.

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In the blink of an eye, the summer vacation has passed and tomorrow will be the first day of school. It is time for us to tidy up school bags, adjust schedule for work and rest and prepare ourselves to face the new environment and challenges in the coming new school year.

For parents, today may be a busy day for preparing stationaries, checking school bags, arranging new books and preparing school uniforms, etc. for their children. The expenses for preparing for a new school year are not small indeed. To grass-roots families, these may amount to some 20%-30% of their monthly family income and cause them a heavy burden.

What makes the situation more difficult is, local economy has been facing both internal and external complications. While external uncertainties have brought up immense pressure, the series of social incidents and violence attacks in Hong Kong have led to a drastic drop in the number of tourists visiting Hong Kong. Local consumption initiatives have decreased significantly, and the catering and retails sectors have been hard hit. According to the provisional statistics of retail sales released last week, the value of total retail sales in July decreased by 11.4% year-on-year, which shows a drop of 4.7 percentage points from the previous month. Excluding the factor of Chinese New Year, this is the biggest decrease in a single month recoded after the outbreak of SARS in 2003. It is worthy to note that the retail sales volume in July is also the lowest in the past two years.

These figures imply that employees in the relevant sectors, especially grass-roots workers or those with commission-based salary, will face increasing pressure of a reduction in income. They have to support the families and handle related expenses of the new school year for their children. One can imagine that if their income reduces, their living will become even more difficult.

In consideration of the severe challenges faced by the local economy, I announced a series of supporting measures last month, including the provision of a one-off grant of $2,500 to each day school student of kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools. We expect that around 900 000 students will be benefited, with a view to alleviating their parents' burden. An expenditure of about $2.3 billion will be involved.

Furthermore, I announced earlier in this year's Budget to provide a one-off grant of $2,500 to 360 000 eligible needy students. We have started to issue the grant since the end of August, implying that those students with financial needs will be receiving a total of $5,000 subsidy, which should be able to relieve parents' pressure.

In addition, in this year's Budget, I allocated resources to strengthen social workers' support in secondary schools. Starting from this new school year, more than 460 secondary schools in Hong Kong will implement the measure of “two school social workers for each school”, so as to enhance teenagers' mental health and stress resilience. New recurrent expenditure of about $310 million will be involved. In the light that there may be students suffering from emotional distress in facing the current social disputes, the Social Welfare Department has advanced the implementation of the“two school social workers for each school” arrangement in this summer to support those students in need. Besides, the Budget also proposed initiatives to further enhance the social workers and counselling services of public primary schools.

With the tension and opposing views in the society, people are concerned that bullying may happen in school in the new school year. In particular, there have been online messages trying to stir up bullying against children of police officers, which is totally unacceptable. No matter how diverse our views are on the various social and political issues, I firmly believe that we all care about the well-being and learning of every child and look forward to them growing up healthily and happily. It is common for us to have different views. The crux is that we all have to learn to respect, understand, accommodate, and support each other.

Schools should be places where children can grow and learn safely. No one should bring in political disputes and adversely affect the children in any aspect. No matter what the reasons and objectives are, and whether the actions are against children of police officers or the others, we must have “Zero Tolerance” to school bullying, and have to handle such cases seriously. If the society tolerates any bullying and those due to one's family background, or even finds an excuse for the bullying, social justice will fade, and seeds of hatred will be implanted, misleading the society away from the path of righteousness.

1 September 2019

   

 
 
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