Jake's View

International school model works fine

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

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 June, 2013, 4:26am

"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.