ESF needs a new deal if it is to flourish for next 40 years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 December, 2009, 12:00am

Alex Lo's column ('Needs versus wants', December 10) sets out cogently the issues facing the ESF board, but there are one or two points that need to be clarified.

First, and most important, the English Schools Foundation has not lost sight of its mission to provide affordable English-medium education to children able to benefit from it.

From the start the ESF has been an organisation which depended upon parental fees. Its client group was and is middle-class people, many of them in small and medium-size enterprises, who are willing and able to pay for the style of education they want for their children.

Unfortunately, for a number of years the ESF neglected its responsibility to maintain its buildings properly, as part of what now seems a misguided attempt to avoid increasing fees.

No long-term plans were made or had ever been made for the renewal of the building infrastructure. This lulled parents into a false sense of security that costs would never rise and that the long term would take care of itself.

Yet at the same time recurrent subvention was frozen by the government in 2000-1; cut by 12.37 per cent between 2001-2 and 2006-7, and from 2004-5 limited to 87 per cent of the classes we currently run. The reduction per student amounts to about 21 per cent per primary student and 23 per cent per secondary student.

This was a situation which could not be allowed to continue without the risk of collapse.

Over the last five years - since the reform programme began - the ESF has increased its fees. For primary schools, the increases have been consistent with the average increase set by the international schools. For secondary schools our increases have been among the lowest.

We have also started to look at long-term investment in our infrastructure.

We are asking for a refundable capital levy from parents, not because we are insensitive to the financial burden that parents take on when their child enters one of our schools, but because it is we, the ESF community, who must take the first step to show a sense of responsibility for our children's future.

We know that some parents may find HK$25,000 a lot; but the sum actually amounts to less than 3 per cent of the costs of 13 years of education in an ESF school at current prices.

Parents pay it only once, it is refundable and we are giving nearly two years' notice of its introduction.

The board hopes that by taking this initiative it can persuade the government also to reconsider its commitment to the ESF.

If Hong Kong values ESF English-medium education, as it says it does, both government and parents must come to the table.

The ESF needs a new deal if it is to flourish for the next 40 years.

Heather Du Quesnay, CEO, English Schools Foundation