ESF - English Schools Foundation

A nice idea, but will NETs really make that much of a difference?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2003, 12:00am

A nice idea, but will NETs really make that much of a difference?

With the NET scheme in effect, the government has opened the doors for the pupils in Hong Kong to learn English from the experts. With the amount of money being spent on hiring the best available teachers for the schools here, one has to think that the scheme will work. But can we really expect much of the programme?

Hong Kong lacks a general environment conducive to the use of English. It is impossible to talk to anyone without hearing grammatical infractions and uou can't find a single word of English on the local Chinese TV or radio stations or in the press. If you go to a restaurant, you have to ask for a separate menu if you can't read Chinese. Most pupils don't speak in English to their friends and parents are afraid to speak it to their children. Why, then, should we have any expectations from the NET scheme? Pupils will probably only interact with NETs for a couple of hours a week for two years. What impact can it have in inspiring them to speak in English?

The NETs can only light the lantern and illuminate the path; students need to walk it themselves. Unless the government seeks to improve the environment outside schools, promoting a world city will remain a dream.


Lantau Island

ESF on path to education equality

I thank Pierce Lam ('ESF must offer more for local children', March 15) for his comments. I endorse them. I believe the ESF must become a genuine Hong Kong institution open to those who can benefit from the education provided. The degree to which we already do this was the central plank of my argument for continued subvention. Segregation cannot be justified in this 'world city'. In so far as the ESF is a segregated organisation, it is because the ordinance by which it was created places restrictions on access, to its schools on those who can be educated in the local sector, whether they can afford ESF fees or not. In practice local children have gained increasing access to the ESF because many are from families returning from abroad, while others argue successfully that their educational needs make an ESF education more appropriate than a local one. Many ESF schools have immersion English programmes for those who need time to make the transition. Most ESF schools have already reached Mr Lam's favoured 50 per cent level of Chinese students; many have far surpassed it. ESF schools are, therefore, far from being segregated on ethnic lines. There is, however, another kind of segregation that Hong Kong should strive to avoid, and that is segregation by wealth. An ESF shorn of its subsidy would, no doubt, become accessible to all who could afford the fees. I am sure the ESF could reinvent itself in such a scenario. But I doubt that it would want to become an elite organisation.

Increasingly the ESF's mission is to reach out to the local community. But it will not be able to serve Hong Kong if its quality is eroded by arbitrary and large-scale financial cuts, or if it becomes an elite organisation serving the wealthy.



A-Level claims need verifying

The ESF and its secondary principals never seem to miss an opportunity to laud themselves over exam results. They claim their results are well ahead of the average British state school and, in the past, comparable with the average independent school. But I note in recent years that the ESF has stopped comparing its A-level results with the independent sector. But even publishing raw A-level and GCSE pass rates ignores the fact that it appears ESF students take fewer A-levels than their British peers.

I also count at least eight subjects taken at GCSE that are not offered by good British independent schools where they are regarded as not sufficiently demanding. Combined Sciences is the only science offered by the ESF, an exam reserved for the bottom streams in the UK.

It is regrettable, given the public money it receives, that the ESF has never published data on the average number of exams sat by each pupil at GCSE and A-level. Only with this information can parents verify the foundation's claims.

Come clean ESF; what are your average points per pupil for A-levels? Despite the privileged type of children you enrol, I suspect you fall far short of the average independent school and probably struggle to beat the local state school.

Low hurdles, easily surmounted, are nothing to boast of.