School places mismatch a cause of heartbreak

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 February, 2010, 12:00am

Poor communities often lack the resources to provide adequate education for their people. But even a rich city like Hong Kong can fall short of providing good quality schooling for all. Despite our riches, many parents who try to find a suitable school for their children face a frustrating or even heartbreaking experience.

We have schools that fail to enrol enough students and so are counting their days before being shut down. Then, there are the elite and international schools with hopelessly long waiting lists. The English Schools Foundation, for example, has seen its waiting list for Year One places at its nine primary schools jump in three years from 382 to 819. Disappointment, therefore, awaits many families.

This is especially so for parents who mistakenly believe they have taken a shortcut to a guaranteed Year One place when they enrol their children in kindergartens run by the commercial arm of the foundation. No such 'through-train' is ever guaranteed by ESF Educational Services. But some parents have argued that statements made on its website have created an impression that most children do move on to an ESF primary school.

Their situation is particularly bleak because many ESF kindergarten graduates lack the requisite language skills to enter local Chinese schools. Meanwhile, most international schools have long waiting lists, too. An ESF kindergarten will double in size next year, thereby exacerbating already keen competition. The problem was highlighted more than a week ago when a mother hurled her four-year-old daughter from a shopping mall balcony before leaping to her death. The girl, who survived, attended an ESF kindergarten, but was refused a Year One place.

There has been clearly a mismatch in expectation and a failure in communication between many parents and the foundation. In a fair and equitable way, every effort should be made to accept qualified ESF kindergarten graduates currently on the waiting list. And to avoid any more heartbreaking confusion, the foundation must make it abundantly clear to the parents that the kindergartens are operated by its commercial arm with no 'through-train' admission policy to ESF primary schools.