International schools in Hong Kong

Cut through the jargon

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 June, 2011, 12:00am


Advanced Placement Programme. AP courses are offered by many schools following American curricula to allow top students to earn university credits and help them secure places on competitive degree programmes. The programme, involving 30 courses, is run by The College Board in the US.


The Association of China and Mongolia International Schools. It has 43 member schools on the mainland, in Mongolia and in Hong Kong, the latter including Chinese International School, Hong Kong Academy, Hong Kong International School and Australian International School.


A standardised test used to assess candidates for admission to American universities that is an alternative to the SAT (see below). It is split into four sections - English, maths, reading and science. An optional written paper is also offered. Each section is scored on a scale of one to 36 and candidates also receive a composite score, which is the average of their four test scores.


Council of International Schools. The global offshoot of the European Council of International Schools (ECIS), which provides accreditation, among other services.


Direct Subsidy Scheme. Under the scheme, schools receive government subsidies per student similar to those for aided schools. But direct subsidy schools can also charge fees and enjoy greater independence and flexibility in terms of management, curriculum and admissions. So far, 73schools have joined. For schools transferring to the scheme, direct subsidy status is phased in from Primary One or Secondary One, which is why some schools still offer both direct subsidy and aided classes.


English as a Second Language. Programmes designed to help non-native English speakers learn the language more quickly. Also known as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Fees and debentures

The tuition fees quoted in this guide are for the 2011-12 school year unless otherwise indicated. They may still be subject to Education Bureau approval. Many schools charge separately for books, stationery and other services, as well as non-refundable registration fees. Many require parents to buy debentures, usually refundable, to secure their children's places. These are designed to help cover capital costs. Some let parents pay annual, non-refundable, capital levies instead.


General Certificate of Education. An internationally recognised qualification offered by five British examination boards and approved by Britain's Qualifications and Curriculum Development Authority. GCE A-levels are broadly equivalent to Hong Kong A-levels. Since 2000 they have been divided into two parts - the AS-level, taken after the first year of senior secondary education, and the A2, after the second and final year. A new A* grade was introduced in 2010.


General Certificate of Secondary Education. British public exams for 14- to 16-year-olds, run by the same exam boards as GCE A-levels. Broadly equivalent to the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, although grading for both GCSEs and GCE A-levels is more generous than for the Hong Kong exams. An international version, the IGCSE, has syllabuses adapted for students outside Britain. Students normally take eight to 10 subjects, with English, maths and sciences compulsory, at the end of Key Stage Four (see below under National Curriculum of England and Wales). Advanced classes may take some subjects earlier.


Hong Kong A-level Examination. Public exam offered by the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) and normally taken at the end of Secondary Seven. The HKALE is being phased out and the last cohort of Secondary Six students started the programme in September 2010 and will take the exams in 2012. All subjects except languages can be taken in either Chinese or English and most students take exams in five subjects. The exam qualifies students to study in local and overseas universities. A final round of 21 HKALEs for private candidates only will be offered in 2013.


Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination. Public exam taken by Secondary Five students, which determines their entry to Secondary Six. The HKCEE is being phased out and the last year group of Secondary Five students took the exams in 2010. A final set of 22 HKCEEs will be offered for private candidates this year.


Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education. New school-leaving diploma taken at the end of Secondary Six that replaces the HKALE and HKCEE. The diploma follows three years of senior secondary education. Students have to take four core subjects, Chinese, English, maths and liberal studies, and choose two or three electives from among academic, applied learning and alternative language options. They are also offered 'other learning experiences' that include moral and civic education, community service, physical and aesthetic education and work experience. The first group of Secondary Six students will sit the exams in 2012 alongside the last group of Secondary Seven students taking HK A-levels. Thereafter, students from public schools will enter university after Secondary Six.


International English Language Testing System. Language assessment developed by University of Cambridge ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Examinations and managed in more than 100 countries by the British Council and IDP Education, Australia. It is required for study in Australia and is widely used as an entrance qualification for tertiary education elsewhere. In Hong Kong, it is used as a language test for graduating university students. Some schools prepare students for IELTS tests.


Information and Communications Technology. Most schools emphasise that students will learn and use computer skills both in ICT classes and across the curriculum.


International Baccalaureate Organisation. The IBO, which is based in Geneva but has its curriculum centre in Cardiff, Wales, and regional headquarters in Singapore, was founded in the 1960s to develop a curriculum for international schools. It now offers three International Baccalaureate programmes - the IB Diploma, Middle Years and Primary Years - which promote broad, inquiry-based learning with a strong global perspective.

IB Diploma

A pre-university programme for 16- to 19-year-olds and a popular, although rigorous, alternative to A-levels. Students study six subjects, three at standard level and three at higher. These must include their first language, a second language and one subject from each of four curriculum areas: individuals and society; experimental sciences; maths and computer sciences; and the arts. All students have to complete the more philosophical theory of knowledge course and the creativity, action and service programme. They must also write a 4,000-word extended essay on a research topic.


IB Middle Years Programme. For students aged 11 to 16 who study a wide range of subjects taught through five core principles: approaches to learning; health and social education; environment; community and service; and homo faber (man's impact on the environment). They must also complete a personal project in the final year.


IB Primary Years Programme. For children aged three to 12. The most flexible of the IB programmes, it covers traditional subjects but with an inquiry-based, cross-curricular approach, organised around six key themes that run across six subject areas - language, maths, social studies, arts, science and personal, social and physical education.

Montessori Method

An approach to teaching developed by Italian educationalist Maria Montessori (1870-1952) that focuses on developing children's natural curiosity through self-directed learning. Manipulable learning equipment is used to enable children to learn through their different senses. Montessori also advocated that children should be taught in multi-age classrooms so they could learn from each other. There are now thousands of Montessori schools around the world, from pre-school to secondary levels. The schools may be accredited by the Montessori Centre International or recognised by the Association Montessori Internationale - and However, as the Montessori name is not patented, schools can use the term in their title without having any accreditation.


National Association of Independent Schools. Organisation representing about 1,400 independent schools in the United States and overseas. Chinese International School is a member.


National Centre for School Curriculum and Textbook Development. An organisation affiliated to the central government's ministry of education that is starting to accredit international schools on the mainland. It has been preparing for this job by working with overseas agencies.

National Curriculum of England and Wales

Used by many international schools and pre-schools, covering education from age five to 16 and divided into four 'key stages' plus a foundation stage that covers pre-school education. Students may be tested at the end of each key stage. During key stages One and Two, primary schools teach the core subjects of English, maths and science, plus history, geography, art and design, ICT, music, design and technology, and PE. Stress is placed on reading, writing and maths through the British government's literacy and numeracy strategies. These provide schools with study programmes and materials for daily literacy and numeracy hours, designed to ensure a rigorous focus on these basic skills. The first three years of secondary school - age 11 to 14 - are covered by Key Stage Three, while Key Stage Four covers the preparation period for General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams from age 14 to 16 (see GCSE entry). During Key Stage Three, students follow all the primary subjects plus citizenship and a modern foreign language.


Private Independent Schools. Since 1999, these schools have received government land and capital grants for construction but are otherwise financially independent. Up to 70 per cent of their students must be permanent residents. They are free to choose their own curricula and admission policies.


British Standard Assessment Tasks. Tests in English and maths to assess pupils' achievements in the National Curriculum of England and Wales, taken at the end of Key Stage Two at age 11. SATs are currently under review by the British government. Although the tests are not obligatory for schools following this curriculum outside Britain, some schools in Hong Kong do set them.


American. A standardised test called the SAT Reasoning Test (formerly the Scholastic Aptitude Test or Scholastic Assessment Test) used to assess candidates for admission to American universities. It is split into three sections - critical reading, maths and writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. Some independent schools and many tutorial schools in Hong Kong prepare students for the SAT.


Test of English as a Foreign Language. Assesses students' abilities in written and spoken English. It is often used as an entrance requirement for international students applying to American universities.


Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Accredits state and private schools, colleges and universities in the United States. Several international schools in Hong Kong use its services for quality assurance. Hong Kong International School and American International School are examples of WASC-accredited schools.