ESF - English Schools Foundation


PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 12:00am

In his letter headlined 'Expensive subsidy a ridiculous anachronism' (South China Morning Post, February 6), Paul Gifford argued against subsidies to the English Schools Foundation (ESF) and overseas school allowances for civil servants' dependants, because they are available only to selective small groups.

Mr Gifford overlooked the economic reality. What matters is whether the competition for the privilege enjoyed by these groups is fair and open.

We have one of the fairest and most open civil service recruitment procedures. The overseas education allowance is available to all local civil servants employed on pensionable terms prior to August 1996. These include not only senior officers, but also those who started as junior clerks and even school leavers who joined the police force.

This allowance for local staff was seen as a step towards the 'equal work, equal benefit' principle. It gave them an opportunity for their children that was comparable to that available to their expatriate counterparts.

The irony which Mr Gifford missed, is that of the local children who have benefited from the overseas allowance and attended schools in England, extremely few, if any, would have been admitted to an ESF school, even though the foundation gave unquestioned admission to the children of expatriate civil servants.

This irony becomes a mockery with the new admissions policy which is supposed to make the ESF multicultural, by opening its schools to students 'who are able to benefit from a modern liberal education through the medium of the English language'. Who are these local ESF students?

In the primary section, returned emigrants who left Hong Kong in the late 1990s are better positioned to have their children admitted than local families who stayed put to continue contributing to Hong Kong's development during the turbulent years.

In the secondary section, a significant number of local students have been admitted to help improve the academic standard of ESF schools, because able expatriate students in upper forms are often sent home to prepare for university entrance.

The difference between ESF and the overseas school allowance is also evident if one compares the number of former ESF students with that of overseas allowance beneficiaries who apply their education for the betterment of Hong Kong. ESF reputedly offers a good education, but the value is not reflected in the number of former ESF students in our medical, engineering, legal and teaching professions. The argument that former ESF students now working overseas are Hong Kong's goodwill ambassadors is dubious. As beneficiaries of discriminatory privileges, they can hardly understand the real concerns of the people of Hong Kong.

There are more than 100 local schools which offer a modern liberal education through the medium of English language. Admission to these schools is very competitive. There is no justification that some in our community, because of their mother-tongue advantage, can bypass the competition and gain access to subsidised English-medium education.

No government can afford to subsidise a school system that openly discriminates against the native language of the overwhelming majority of its citizens simply based on their mother tongue. Public funding for a discriminatory linguistic barrier that internally segregates our education will only further erode our moral fabric.

The only two options for ESF are to privatise, or to integrate with local English-medium schools.