Rich diversity of cultures foster a global outlook
The English Schools Foundation has been joined by many other international schools in catering for Hong Kong's elite and middle classes, whether local or foreign.
In the early years of the 20th century, some of the most prominent local institutions such as the Diocesan Girls' School and St Paul's Convent School admitted many non-local children.
But as they became part of the aided sector, and expatriate teachers were replaced by local ones, their focus naturally swung to the Chinese population.
The past three decades has been marked by the rise of international schools offering a genuine alternative to boarding schools overseas, and more exclusive education for the globally-minded local community who can afford the fees. Hong Kong today probably has a larger concentration of international schools than any other city in the world, and the largest in Asia.
These 50-odd schools, with British, North American, Australian, French, German, Jewish, Korean, Japanese, and South Asian traditions, have grown rapidly to provide a rich diversity of high quality education beyond the local sector.
The Lutheran Hong Kong International School, which opened in the same year as Island School, is among the most prominent and exclusive, along with Chinese International School. The latter was founded by community leaders in 1983 to ensure that an international education could be gained without dispensing with Chinese culture and language. The Yew Chung Education Foundation, a locally-based Christian organisation headed by Betty Chan Po-king, followed Chinese International in giving an east-meets-west twist to international education. Among the most pioneering of them has been Li Po Chun United World College, which opened in 1992, teaching the International Baccalaureate diploma.
It is one of 10 United World College sixth-form schools established around the world with the lofty mission of promoting international understanding and peace through education.
It recruits 60 per cent of its students from overseas on the basis of scholarships.
The learning environment and facilities in this and other top schools in the sector are a far cry from the more stark campuses and rigid teaching methods of most local schools, accounting for their popularity.
But today the divide between international schools and local ones is blurring, given the large number of local students they admit, and the fact that several local schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme plan to offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum.
New private independent schools, being built with government grants under a scheme started in 1999 to further boost the private sector, will further blur the lines. Schools with an international character have grown with Hong Kong, to become a vibrant part of its education.