Blighted by the lucky dragon
THE YEAR of the Dragon is meant to be the most auspicious in the Chinese calendar, but for schools in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong it can seem more like a curse.
Dragon children are traditionally believed to be the most blessed, enjoying cleverness, good luck and good fortune. They are the supposed emperors of tomorrow, a belief that will prompt hundreds of thousands of couples to try to ensure that their children are born in the coming year - just so many did 12 years ago.
When their children, the products of the last dragon year, move on to secondary school in September, they will face unusually tough competition to get into the best schools, and will be crammed into already crowded classrooms.
Education legislator Cheung Man-kwong has lambasted the Hong Kong education department for not making adequate preparations for the dragon children and turning classrooms into "pigeon holes".
"Even increasing the places from 40 to 42 is not enough," he said.
Joseph Wong, secretary for education and manpower, said that the education department had to provide 5,200 aditional first-year secondary places.
Class sizes would be increased by one or two students, extra classrooms opened and dragon children would fill places normally reserved for students repeating a year. But he admitted that there is still a shortage of about 360 secondary places.
Joseph Wong is angry that pupils who need to repeat their first secondary year may be forced to move on before they are ready, just to make room for the children of the dragon bubble.
The problem could be worse when the dragon babies of 2000 reach school age, because this is no ordinary dragon year, but a golden dragon - the luckiest birth sign which occurs once every 60 years.
In China, with communist ideology receding in the face of market forces, young people are paying more heed to old traditions. As a consequence, family-planning controls - which limited Chinese parents to one child - are being ignored and even more babies are expected.
However, in an apparent attempt to cool their ardour, Jessie Leung, an officer with the Hong Kong exams authority, has revealed that the supposed cleverness of dragon children is not born out in exam results.
"It can't be proved statistically," she said.