Launch of first Hong Kong school fair for mainland Chinese draws nearly 10,000 attendees, as pupils seek out less intense learning space

The attendees were mainly families from the mainland, coming from cities such as Shenzhen, Wuhan and Beijing. Organisers said the event attracted nearly 10,000 parents and pupils.

“I don’t want to put my child in a mainland environment,” father-of-one Chen Li said. “The involution there is becoming more and more concerning, and I worry that it may cause psychological issues for my child.”

An educator assesses a student attending the launch of the education expo. Photo: Jack Deng

Chen, 40, was referring to the mainland’s burnout culture, known as nei juan, or “involution”, resulting from the intense competition and pressure faced by students of all ages.

His son was studying at a fifth-grade level in Shenzhen and under intense pressure to pass his high school entrance exam, he added.

“Schools in Hong Kong are more inclusive than schools in the mainland,” Chen said. “For those who grew up on the mainland like me, the only word in our heads was ‘study’. I want my boy to live a happy life instead of a tired life.”

Hong Kong schools are contending with a shrinking student population, driven by the low birth rate and emigration.

Education authorities earlier projected that the number of children in Hong Kong aged six would fall to 50,000 in 2029, down from the 57,300 recorded this year, while the number of pupils aged 12 would drop from 71,600 to 60,100 over the same period.

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Xia Fan, a salesman from Dongguan, said the intense pressure at mainland schools was discouraging and he instead hoped his nine-year-old son could learn in a more relaxed education environment.

“The biggest advantage of Hong Kong is that people here don’t get ‘involution’,” he said. “I will use the word ‘freedom’ to describe this city. At least my child will have more choices in life if I decide to let him study in Hong Kong. Less competition is always a good thing for parents.”

Xia said his son, a third-grade primary student in Dongguan, frequently complained that “life is boring” because of the pressure he faced to get into a good middle school.

Organisers have said the event received a positive response from attendees. Photo: Jack Deng

Liu Xiaoli, a mother from Shenzhen, said she hoped her child could grow up in a more international environment in Hong Kong, adding that the range of languages spoken in the city was the biggest draw.

“I knew from today’s exhibition that many Hong Kong schools teach students in English only, which I like the most,” she said. “Schools on the mainland are not able to provide this.”

Sun Xiaohua, a mother of a four-year-old boy, said she had flown from Beijing to attend the event.

“Although my boy is still in kindergarten, I plan to let him study in Hong Kong for years,” she said. “Schools in Hong Kong can provide my children with a more diverse environment. I want him to have more choices in life when he grows up.”

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Wong Wai-man, principal of GCCITKD Lau Pak Lok Secondary School in Sha Tin, said staff had already arranged for some youngsters attending the event to sit for interviews and written tests on Saturday.

“The education fair has received a good response,” she said. “Most of the parents from the mainland want their kids to study the junior forms as they would like to prepare them to sit the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.”

Tsuen Wan Trade Association Primary School principal Chow Kim-ho said the most frequently asked question from mainland parents was when their children could transfer over.

“Children of parents who come today are from all grades,” he said. “Parents don’t want their children to wait for a spot for too long.”

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Lee Yi-ying, the chairwoman of the Subsidised Secondary School Council, one of the event organisers, said the local education environment “was comparatively relaxed” compared with the mainland.

“Every mark in the university entrance exam on the mainland counts, as there are lots of students, while in Hong Kong students are graded by different ranges of marks,” she said.

Lee said the education fair could effectively promote Hong Kong schools and nurture talent, as well as offer a solution to the city’s falling student enrolment rates.

“We will organise similar fairs in the future if the schools find this event meaningful,” she added.

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