ESF - English Schools Foundation

Don't look at schools as business ventures

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 2001, 12:00am

It is no small matter that parents must contend with the education system on behalf of their children. Hong Kong's system presents a number of obstacles to finding a school place, let alone a 'quality' education. Stories abound of parents queuing in long lines simply for admissions applications, and then standing in another queue to be placed on waiting lists for an interview.

Part of the reason for this disastrous educational structure is due to its discriminatory nature. There are, in no uncertain terms, schools for the truly rich, the rich, the poor and the truly poor.

The public impression is, however, that there are many options for schooling. For example, at Primary One, one option is for the child to go to a local school. However, the child must be able to speak Cantonese and read basic Chinese characters.

Another option is for the child to go to the English Schools Foundation (ESF) which is designed for students who cannot make it in local schools and are native English speakers. This would seem to address the needs of different children. However, ESF schools have a shortage of places. Consequently, parents must submit applications at least one year in advance, and must contend with being put on waiting lists to be interviewed.

The Government takes the view that existing places are adequate. But is it not the responsibility of the Government to ensure that all children who apply to schools get an education? Accordingly, and in true Hong Kong fashion, another option for parents is to apply to one of the prestigious private schools, with either a Chinese or international orientation. Clearly, this does not apply to the average Hong Kong resident who can hardly afford the fees and the extras.

Even if parents can afford it, there appears to be another status layer dividing the haves and have-nots. Recently, I contacted one school to inquire about applying for my child and to request a brochure and application form. The admissions secretary asked first what our occupations were, and then stated that if we did not work for a corporation, then the chances of getting an interview (let alone admission), would be remote. This position was confirmed when I reviewed its brochure which stated 'priority is given to corporate debenture nominees'. Not surprisingly, the corporate debenture fee is four times that of the individual debenture.

How can educators run the educational system as a business enterprise? Why is something so necessary treated as nothing more than a business venture?