DSS schools help fill gap
The fierce competition for international school places in Hong Kong has made world headlines, but there are more places than people think for students from various ethnic or multicultural backgrounds.
American Kenna Ford, who lived for three years in Shanghai where her father was working before moving to Hong Kong last year, is in Secondary Three at a local school offering an international curriculum.
'I hope I'll stay around for a few more years,' said the student at the YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College in Tung Chung. 'I really like it. This is my first year here and everyone has been very friendly. I was shocked that everyone welcomed and accepted us.'
Briton Ryan Harling, a Mui Wo resident, also began his secondary schooling here last year. He said he particularly enjoyed the Putonghua lessons, where his bilingual teacher often discussed life in Hong Kong in English and Putonghua. 'I found it very interesting that a person speaking a very different language can learn Chinese,' said the 12-year-old student.
The Tung Chung school is a Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) school with a mixture of students from local and expatriate families. DSS schools, which enjoy more flexibility in setting their curriculums than government and aided schools, can offer international curriculums to a limited number of students in senior forms. But most students must follow a curriculum aimed at preparing them for local examinations. Each school is required to allot at least 10 per cent of its school fee income to provide financial aid or scholarships for deserving students.
At the YMCA college, which has pupils from 40 countries, only half of its senior students can do the Cambridge International Advanced Level exams. About 70 per cent of its junior form students are non-locals.
Acting principal Dion Chen said schools like his could help alleviate the shortage of places in international schools, although they were not regarded strictly as part of the international school sector. 'We have a general policy that we will accept whoever meets our academic requirements,' he said.
The school saw a rise in local and expatriate families competing for 160 Secondary One places last year. Inquiries frequently also came from other countries. A recent case is that of a child living in Croatia. 'Every year, inevitably, more than 160 hope to come to our school, but we cannot cater to them all,' Chen said.
Various studies have shown that the lack of international school places has made Hong Kong a less-preferred destination for relocating expatriates.
Last year, almost 5,000 children were on the waiting list for English Schools Foundation primary schools, with a further 1,200 for ESF secondary schools.
'There have been calls for increasing the number of international school places,' Chen said. 'We can help the government maintain Hong Kong as an international talent hub.'
Another DSS school, Creative Secondary School, is one of the first government-aided schools authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation to offer the IB diploma for senior form students. It also offers the local curriculum leading to the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.
The local diploma, which had won wide overseas recognition, had fewer core subjects than the IB and gave students more flexibility in selecting electives, principal Cheung Siu-ming said.
Cheung sees much value in grouping students of various backgrounds together. 'It can create synergies,' he said. 'We want to bring global perspective to students. If students are exposed to different people from other nationalities, they can learn about different cultures and religious backgrounds and how to live with them, whether they go overseas or not.'
Both he and Chen urge the government to lift restrictions so DSS schools can take more non-Chinese-speaking students. Cheung also thinks the government should encourage more Chinese as a second language courses to cater for children of returned migrants.
Meanwhile, Rosaryhill School will launch a new Spanish curriculum for Primary One students in September. The supervisor of the private Catholic school, Father Francisco de las Heras, supports a diversified campus. 'Schools in Hong Kong are changing. We have to accommodate different kinds of students with different cultures,' he said.
His school has already made changes to the type of food offered on campus, such as providing more vegetarian dishes for ethnic minority students.
'We are happy to accommodate students from different nationalities,' Father Francisco said.
But one of the key challenges was managing parental expectations. An example, he said, was that students in local schools 'can get zero' quite easily in dictations, as teachers tended to deduct marks for wrong answers. Some parents thought students should be given marks as long as they wrote correct words.