Calls to lift curriculum limits
Direct Subsidy Scheme schools can help ease the burden on oversubscribed international schools, educators say, but only if the Education Bureau eases restrictions on the curriculums they can offer.
Soaring demand has led to long waiting lists for schools run by the English Schools Foundation and private international schools.
Direct subsidy schools, which enjoy more flexibility in setting their curriculums than government and aided schools, can offer an international curriculum in junior forms and to a limited number of students in senior forms.
But most students must follow a curriculum aimed at preparing them for local examinations.
Some head teachers question the need for the restrictions.
'The government needs to reconsider the position of direct subsidy schools in the market,' said Dion Chen, principal of the YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College in Tung Chung, a direct subsidy school where 70 per cent of junior form students are foreigners.
'I don't think they should serve mainly local children. We should not classify students as local or non-local.
'Our school can provide an English learning environment and international students feel more comfortable in such an environment.
'It is important to accommodate students' needs.'
The school, which has pupils from 40 different countries, provides International General Certificate of Secondary Education and British GCE A-level curriculums, but most students have to follow the local curriculum in senior forms.
'For every 100 students in senior forms, we can offer the international curriculum to fewer than 50 of them,' Chen said.
'Even if we would like to offer more international places, we cannot do that with the restriction [in place].'
Chen said the school should be given the same flexibility in setting its curriculum as ESF schools, which receive government grants and draw 70 per cent of their 13,000 pupils from the city's permanent residents.
'ESF schools are like [direct subsidy] schools, judging from their student make-up,' Chen said. 'So why should direct subsidy schools be limited to local students? The government needs to think about the reason for setting up ESF and direct subsidy schools. Are they really serving the people they are meant to serve?'
His comments were echoed by Dr Chan Wai-kai, a member of the Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools Council.
'The issue is not insufficient places but insufficient choice of schools,' Chan said.
'Why doesn't the Education Bureau allow direct subsidy schools to turn into internationalised local schools and give them subvention as in the case of the ESF? Not all schools would opt for the change anyway, as only certain schools have long waiting lists.'
An Education Bureau spokesman said direct subsidy schools were, by their nature, local schools.
The bureau has commissioned a survey by Professor Cheng Kai-ming of the University of Hong Kong's department of education on the international education needs of 3,000 local employers.
Firms employing expatriates, and international chambers of commerce have said in recent months that a shortage of places at international schools has made it more difficult to recruit and keep such talents.