Schools scheme a subsidy for elitism

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2011, 12:00am


The direct subsidy scheme has become the get-out-of-jail-free card for elite schools. It enables these institutions to run their affairs relatively free from official interference, yet continue to receive substantial public subsidies.

The latest to join the scheme is the 75-year-old Heep Yunn School in Kowloon City. One of the first consequences for parents there is to see the annual tuition fees jump from HK$3,000 to HK$30,000 from the 2012-13 academic year onwards.

The school's officials say enough scholarships and other assistance will be set aside for families that can't afford the increase. But it is just the latest example of the increasing class division in the city's schools between directly funded elite schools and government and other aided schools. The former, usually English-medium schools, are much loved by middle-class and wealthy families; the latter, which often use Chinese as the teaching medium, are now increasingly for the grass roots and lower-income households.

The direct subsidy scheme is decades old. But since the controversial reform launched by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa fizzled out, more schools with enough wealthy parents to afford the switch have joined the gravy train.

Encouraged by the government as a compromise with parents and teachers to reverse restrictive funding rules, the scheme has become schools' method of choice for entrenching elitism. It is an outright reversal of the ill-fated reform, which aimed to make the system more egalitarian. The elite schools argue they run their own affairs and understand their needs better than education officials.

But encouraging schools for the rich and others for the poor is not how government funds should be used.