Flexible policy could help ease pressure for places at city's international schools

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 February, 2012, 12:00am


Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) schools can help ease the burden on oversubscribed international schools if Education Bureau policy is interpreted more flexibly.

More places in international schools can be released for expatriate students by giving an incentive to local or overseas-returned students already at international schools to join DSS schools. Possible reasons why local and overseas-returned students prefer international schools include: the standard of Chinese language in local schools seems too challenging, and the classes too large; students perceive that there is a stronger English-learning environment in international schools, and believe an international school education to be of higher quality and less pressured.

DSS schools receive a subsidy per student equivalent to the average spending per student in government schools. They can charge fees and are allowed to offer other curricula in addition to the Hong Kong curriculum. The result is a 'semi-private' school sector offering greater choice. Bureau policy states that DSS schools can offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, GCSE/A-level or other curricula provided they 'principally offer' the Hong Kong curriculum. Some DSS schools have developed high-quality additional curricula that offer a viable and cost-effective alternative to international schools. So, in principle, the incentives for local and overseas-returned students to opt for DSS schools are there.

But, the bureau interprets 'principally offer' to mean that at least half of the students must follow the local curriculum and take the Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exams in Form Six. This inflexibility stops DSS schools from letting every student choose the curriculum that best meets their needs.

The requirement that DSS schools 'principally offer' the HKDSE should be interpreted literally. I would suggest that if the quality of a DSS school's HKDSE curriculum is as good as any other additional curriculum the school also offers, then the school has adhered to the bureau policy. The percentage of students following this curriculum should be allowed to vary from year to year. Offering a curriculum and following a curriculum are separate actions taken by schools and students respectively; to conflate the two leads to a restriction of choice. The DSS sector is flourishing and can ease the pressure on international schools, provided policy is interpreted flexibly.

Cheung Siu-ming, principal, Creative Secondary School