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Similarly, the Queen’s College Old Boys’ Association (QCOBA) Evening School is also experiencing dropping admission rates. In the early 2000s, the school had 300 to 400 students but it has around 20 this year. The school is kept alive by donations from the alumni of Queen’s College and from the public.

Jessica Li, the principal of QCOBA, thinks there are several reasons for the decline of evening schools. Firstly, the number of students has dropped over the years due to the low birth rate. “Day schools are reducing classes or closing down, not to mention evening schools,” Li says.

Secondly, there are too many alternative paths for post-secondary education. After the handover, the government set a target that over 60 per cent of secondary school graduates should enter tertiary education.  It greatly expanded the tertiary education sector, offering qualifications such as the Diploma Yi Jin (DYJ) and Associate Degree. Before this policy change, repeating and retaking public examinations was the only option available for students who wanted to further their studies.

Li is not totally pessimistic but she is cautious about the future of evening schools. She predicts that when the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) has been in place for five years, the number of repeaters will increase and they are potential students of evening schools. The schools can also target new immigrants whose academic qualifications are not recognised in Hong Kong.

Still, she will monitor the enrollment situation closely. In the worst case scenario, if the number falls below five, she will probably close the school. At the moment, she thinks it is still acceptable. “Although there are not many students, as long as the demand exists, we will continue to operate,” Li says with determination.

Mervyn Cheung Man-ping, the chairman of Hong Kong Education Policy Concern Organisation, graduated from Queen Elizabeth Evening School in 1972. He studied there for six years and taught there for five. Cheung feels an intimate bond with evening schools so he still follows their development closely.

Cheung thinks a lack of promotion of evening schools is one reason for the low enrollment rates. For instance, he says, the Education Bureau has actively promoted post-secondary education programmes such as the DYJ and Associate Degree by organising  exhibitions.

However, he adds that other post-secondary education programmes cannot replace the function of evening schools because they cannot help students to consolidate a secondary education foundation.

“For those students whose public examination results show they haven’t reached a certain required standard, why shouldn’t we [help them] receive basic education again?”  says Cheung.

He says the other programmes cannot do much to help students build a solid foundation in basic skills such as English proficiency.

“But now people opt for other programmes as a shortcut and neglect the fact that they are below society’s required [academic] standard,” he says.

When pondering the survival of evening schools, Cheung suggests the focus should not be on thinking of ways to encourage students to study in them, but to rethink and reaffirm the true value of evening schools and the role they can play today.

Edited by Wing Chan