Top schools urged to find positions for non-Chinese

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 October, 2005, 12:00am

Law wants more liberal access for expatriate students, ethnic minorities

Hong Kong's elite schools have been urged to open their doors to non-Chinese speaking children by Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, Permanent Secretary for Education.

Mrs Law told businessmen and educators concerned about the shortage of places in international schools that expatriate parents could consider the top local schools that are members of the Grant Schools Council.

'I have the agreement of the heads of these schools that they will not reject students for their lack of Chinese. But they will need assurance students have the academic ability to cope with the school work,' she said during a Canadian Chamber of Commerce gathering this week.

The 22 grant schools include long-established Diocesan Girls' School, St Paul's College and St Paul's Convent School, known for high academic standards.

Mrs Law said she would like the schools to consider expatriate students, ethnic minorities and Chinese returning from overseas. 'Some grant schools already admit such students, although the number is small,' she said. Parents could also consider new private independent schools, most of which taught International Baccalaureate programmes.

Mrs Law said the Education and Manpower Bureau's survey of places in international schools would be complete by the end of the year. Overall, there were 34,000 places, with 13 per cent vacant. But there was anecdotal evidence that the most popular schools were 'grossly over-subscribed'.

She said there were cultural and language benefits of local and international students studying alongside each other. 'Instead of segregation we should encourage integration,' she said.

George Tam Siu-ping, chairman of the Grant Schools Council and principal of Wah Yan College, confirmed that 17 of the 22 principals met Mrs Law last week and the majority supported the idea. 'If we can help such kinds of students with the resources provided we won't reject them,' he said.

David Dodwell, convenor of the Coalition of Business in Education, said the proposal for expatriate children to attend grant schools had been discussed among representatives from chambers of commerce. 'While the gesture is appreciated and does reflect recognition on part of government that we have a serious problem that needs urgent attention, in practical terms it is unlikely to prove attractive or effective for most families.'

Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce, said his chamber had considered the grant school proposal. But he accused Mrs Law of 'continuously ignoring' the psychological problems foreign children would face in these schools.

New private independent schools were part of the solution. But the number of places in existing international schools should be increased and new schools could be built, he said.