All aboard for greater autonomy
The launch of the direct subsidy scheme in 1991 shook up the local school sector, with the new mode of operation giving schools much greater flexibility and autonomy in policy decisions than traditional aided government schools.
According to information provided by the Education Bureau, there are now 81 DSS primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong. Schools in the scheme receive equivalent funding per student as the average aided and government school (aided schools are funded by class, regardless of the number of students).
However, unlike their peers, DSS schools have considerable leeway over how to spend that money, plus the added advantage of being able to charge fees.
Not only can a DSS school decide which medium of instruction to adopt, it is also given much flexibility to lay down its own policies regarding staff recruitment, curriculum arrangement, management and administration.
Free from the straightjacket of government control, they can set their own development goals. The free rein offered by the DSS option explains why an increasing number of traditional aided government schools have applied to join the scheme over recent years.
Ying Wa College was one of the four secondary schools to join the DSS club last year.
School principal Roger Lee Chee-wah said the enhanced autonomy allowed it to lay down more school-based policies. 'We are planning our development goals,' he said. 'One of them is to further develop our school environment.'
Mr Lee said the extra space available to the school after it moved from Kowloon Tong to a new campus in Sham Shui Po in 2003 allowed it to construct more facilities to enhance the quality of education.
'We are about to construct a swimming pool. Together with the five basketball courts and a soccer field our students, who are all boys, will have more space for physical activities.'
Mr Lee said the school put much emphasis on all-round education. Another of the school's goals is to expand its student exchange programmes.
'Our school conducts educational exchanges with overseas schools every year. Last year, 10 students from Jinling High School in Nanjing stayed at our school for a week and our Form Four students also visited them in return. Such exchange programmes could help nurture the global outlook of our students. To make our programmes more international in scope, we are considering holding exchange programmes with such western countries as Canada and Australia in future.'
Law Ting Pong Secondary School is another school that jumped on the DSS bandwagon last year. Principal Teresa Siu Lai-ping said the extra flexibility afforded to it by the DSS scheme allowed it to take better care of its students' needs. 'An aided government school might not have the manpower and resources to cater to all the needs of students,' she said.
'A DSS school doesn't have to follow school establishment formulas laid down by governments regarding staff recruitment, which allows us to employ more teachers to take care of our students' needs.'
School sponsoring body Law's Foundation gave the green light to the scheme in 2006 and injected capital of HK$10 million to improve the facilities on campus. One of the projects is the library expansion project.
'After extension, the library will take up the whole of the third floor, which will give a lot of space for our students to nurture their reading habits.
'All the other new facilities like the multifunction rooms will allow us to accommodate the double cohort of students in 2011-12, when students under both the new senior academic system and the old structure will study under the same roof.'
Ms Siu said joining the DSS scheme allowed the school to boost students' whole-person development through a variety of schemes.
'As a DSS school, we can set our own language policies. Spanish is the third language in addition to Chinese and English at our school. To nurture our students' interest in different fields, we have a lot of clubs like astronomy, bridge and drama clubs on offer.'
Situated on a sprawling campus dotted with trees, St Stephen's College also joined the DSS scheme last year.
Principal Louise Law Yi-shu spelled out a long list of benefits of the scheme. 'There's much more room for school development,' she said. 'We are able to readjust school fees to enhance the quality of education. We have also employed 10 extra teachers over the past two years.
'With an increase in manpower resources, we can further reduce the teacher-student ratio to enjoy the benefits of small-class teaching. One of the new policies we adopted after our DSS switch was the splitting of language classes into small groups so that teachers could pay more attention to each student's needs. For English and Putonghua classes, the student number was reduced from 30 to 20 after we became a DSS school.'
Surrounded by the sea on three sides in a tranquil part of Stanley, the 105-year-old school provides an ideal environment for students.
Dr Law said the abundant resources also allow the school to pursue a robust creative learning programme to encourage its students to pursue achievements outside the classroom.
'There are six options for students to choose, which include musical creativity, visual arts, creative writing, scientific invention and business. Junior students are exposed to all of them. They have to choose one that they want to specialise in by the end of their Form One studies. By the end of the third year, they would be asked to showcase their project to parents, to show what they have done over the past three years in a particular field. It can be a ceramic work of art or another artistic invention. The rationale of the programme is to make students understand the importance of creativity.'
Recently, a nine-point heritage trail has been set up around the school, covering an area of about 150,000 square metres. The trail allows students to learn about the school's history as an internship camp during the Japanese occupation in the second world war.
Dr Law said the trail allowed teachers to jazz up their history lessons.
'We have a very unique history because very few schools witnessed the second world war. When you tell students that history is not something which is so far away, it's something that is just next to you, you're immersed in history itself, and then history comes alive.'