Schools' solution lies close to home
The shortage of places at international schools is well-known. Yet there seems to be no agreement on how to resolve this problem.
David O'Rear, the chief economist at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, has framed the issue as well as anyone I have come across.
Addressing the legislature's education panel on Monday, O'Rear said that even if the government made available more places at international schools, local families would snap them up because the local system was not meeting their needs.
From an economist's viewpoint, O'Rear said, the problem of the lack of places at international schools would not be solved until local schools improved.
This may not be entirely fair to many top-notch local schools, but the point he is making still holds.
Having more international schools is like building more roads in Hong Kong: any short-term relief will only result in more traffic.
Instead, you need to raise the game at local schools so that parents no longer feel the need to send their children to international schools. But that is only half the solution. You also need to give incentives to more top-notch local schools to develop the facilities and programmes needed to attract foreign students.
The point is not only to improve local schools but to help relieve the pressure on international schools.
Surveys by the American Chamber of Commerce purport to show the shortage of places and the need to build more international schools. But that is the wrong solution. AmCham may be forgiven as it is essentially a lobby group, working for its own constituency. From its narrow perspective, its proposal makes sense.
But we need to invest in our own schools to retain our students and attract foreign ones. Does the next government have the courage to take up this challenge?