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  • Aug 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:15am
Jake's View
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 4:26am

International school model works fine

Expatriate parents finding education fees too high should ask employers for better pay

"The government should really review the whole international school system."

Ip Kin-yuen
Legislator (Education rotten borough)
SCMP, June 19

Why review it? The model for the international school system works perfectly well at the moment. The government provides some land, the parents pay for construction of the building with a debenture, the operating costs are met from tuition fees and Hong Kong gets some very good schools.

The only thing I can see going wrong with international schools now is that they are all adopting the International Baccalaureate programme. This is a regimented European curriculum that turns teachers into knowledge assimilation technicians and applies Henry Ford's ideas of car production to the classroom.

But if the object of the exercise is acceptance by any of two English universities or eight American ones and a job with Goldman Sachs on graduation, all of which it is, then the IB is certainly your thing. What the parents want, the parents get. Pay the money and you call the tune.

Mr Ip's comments, of course, were apropos of the English Schools Foundation's decision to accept a phasing out of government subsidies. I didn't know that this measure required acceptance by the ESF but, after much debate and protest by the ESF, it now appears final.

I wonder why it took so long. The ESF was originally set up as a civil service perk to provide education to the children of expatriate bureaucrats. Colonial days are almost 16 years behind us now and I have long found it difficult to see why ESF schools should be treated differently from other international ones.

Yes, it probably is true that some expatriate parents with children at an ESF school will find it difficult to pick up the higher school bills. I have been stung plenty myself by the cost of an international education for three children over a total of 40 school years.

But the real point about international school bills is that they are an employment problem, not an education one. If expatriate parents find that these bills are too high, they should ask their employers for better pay.

If their employers then say they are not worth it compared to what is available in local hires, well, perhaps that's the truth of the matter. I am of the opinion that some overseas companies with operations here still have a greater contingent of expatriates on staff than they really need.

That's fine and their business, if they are willing to pay the cost. I see no reason, however, why my tax money should subsidise their hiring preferences. If they want to come to Hong Kong, then they should be prepared to get themselves a Hong Kong payroll.

If they say that people they can hire here are not up to their requirements or will cost them too much, why come here in the first place? I see nothing amiss if education costs prove to be a means by which Hong Kong achieves a greater degree of localisation.

But, of course, the pressure on international schools comes not just from expatriates but also from Hong Kong people who want an international education for their children, which is just another reason to say that Mr Ip is looking the wrong way. It is the local school system he should review, not international ones.

Something is wrong when parents value after-school crammer schools more than they do the formal education system, which the advertisements on the back of almost any double-decker bus will tell you they do.

Then again, crammer schools apparently do succeed in guessing exam questions accurately, which may help the kids who attend them to gain acceptance to Harvard and a job with Goldman Sachs … dream, dream, dream. What else is education for?

Personally, I think formal education is somewhat over-rated these days and I have to wonder whether ESF parents do not agree with me when I read from our report that the ESF board had only 22 e-mail messages from parents on the matter of subsidies and that only 34 parents showed up at two consultation meetings.

This should keep Mr Ip happy, however. Professional educationalists rarely like to see parents getting in the way and messing things up.

jake.vanderkamp@scmp.com

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dynamco
All HKG born children or permanent ID card holders should be equally subvented by the Government whose laws state they must attend school
The UNHCR Rights of the Child stipulates free education for ALL at least at primary level irrelevant of race , language or ethnic or religious origins
Where the parents spend the subvented money on education is irrelevant as long as the child attends school
The not-for-profit ESF unlike for-profit-Intl schools has its own Ordinance
Cap 117 Sec 4
1 The objects of the Foundation
a) to own, manage, administer and operate within Hong Kong or elsewhere schools offering, without regard to race or religion, a modern liberal education through the medium of the English language to boys and girls who are able to benefit from such an education
Sec 5
2 the functions of the Board shall be
a) to establish, with the Chief Executive Officer, the strategic direction of the Foundation;
b) to approve + keep under review a curriculum strategy for the schools of the Foundation as a whole;
The existing law states ESF's entitlement to strategic direction and curriculum
The HK Govt then punishes ESF for not following the local curriculum by its withdrawal of funding to future incoming students whilst paying only half of what current DSS schools obtain funding wise
for existing ESF students
Is this fair and equitable to any unbiased observer ?
ctringham
Why did so few parents attend the meetings or send emails to ESF management?
That would probably be because current parents are not directly affected - the higher school fees will only apply to students who enter the ESF system from August 2016.
caractacus
You characterise ESF parents as "expatriates" when in fact some 80% are Hong Kong permanent residents, which means by definition they are not expatriates. What you and the Education Department really mean is that they are not Chinese. Another fact: about 50% of the children are ethnic Chinese, not that that should matter, but it is another inconvenient fact the Government and other critics like to ignore. Witness Cyd Ho's statement the "the ESF is a relic of the colonial era." She has never explained exactly what she meant by that though it carries definite overtones of a racial chip on the shoulder. At the same time through her office she hypocritically claimed to be in favour of continuing the subvention, which many believe to be a sneaky lie. Why should not a permanent resident child with permanent resident parents not be given the same degree of financial subsidy as any other child in a DSS or other fully Government financed school? The Government's campaign of attrition against the ESF is driven by racism, certainly not logic and least of all by what is in the best interests of education for Hong Kong children.
impala
Tsk tsk. We have been over this before, remember? An opinion is one thing, ignoring facts another.

44% of ESF students are ethnically Chinese, 13% are Indian and another 12% Eurasian. Merely 21% are caucasian. So how can this possibly be an act of racism while the largest ethnic group is Chinese, which you noted yourself? Racism against ethnic Chinese by ethnic Chinese?

And even if the ESF were lily white, it still wouldn't be racism. All children in HK, of any colour and with any right of abode, permanent or not, have the same right to education. All children can enroll in fully or partially government funded schools. No racism at all. The only need to pick any of the hundreds of schools, EMI or CMI, that qualify for subsidy. If they want to go to an international school, that is fine too, but then there is no direct subsidy. If I go to a public hospital, my health care is subsidised. If go to a private hospital, obviously not. Matter of choice really, not of racism.

Then, as for the ESF: while 70% of pupils may be HK PR's (any child born here is one by default), let's not forget that these are largely 'expatriates' in the sense that they are foreign passport holders: 27% UK, 10% Canadian, 9% Australian, 8% US (total >50% already). Only 9% are HK passport holders. All fine and fair too, but let's not pretend that the ESF student body is a proportionate representation of HK society.
donniemcm
Quick and dirty cheat trick : label all local school international school !
markyu
I am a parent with two kids; Whilst I would probably love to get them into international schools, I saw no reason to until very recently.
You are absolutely right that our government should review (AGAIN!) our local school system. The manner of marking and distorted expectations is ludicrous.
Somehow, I feel this has to do with the perception (or lack their of) of what constitutes childhood.
My generation has grown up considering 'tutorials' part of the norm, that kids are having fun when they go to whatever class / tutorial session - be it for academics or physical activities. My childhood was one of running in the hills (not in HK) and playing with kids of similar age.
It is extremely difficult to arrange this in Hong Kong where we tend to pack so much in the day - so much so we have no rest or time for physical exercise.
Now that's what a maximum hours law should help do. Give us more time at home.
Greenwash
The demand for international school places is so high because the local school system is so poor. The ESF has become the English as a Second Language school Federation. It will be interesting to see if the percentage of local children in the ESF schools goes up or down when the ESF becomes completely private (coinciding roughly with their new admissions policies).
Given that the local education system is unlikely to be reformed within the next 20 years, the best thing the government could do is make available more 'existing' under-utilised school sites for international / private schools.
hectortse
PCC, the writer did not suggest "reforming the local education system to provide a more international style education".
XYZ
Well, actually, I think he did say that in the 11th paragraph, but, ok, then I'm saying it. Thanks for your edit.
chanaa
seriously, expats are spoilt in HK. This is a legacy of colonial protection. International school fees in other asia nations are just as expensive vs HK. If you adjust that to the income / GDP, in most countries it will be 50-70% more expensive

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