• Tue
  • Jul 29, 2014
  • Updated: 2:49pm
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 November, 2012, 3:15am

ESF is part of what makes Hong Kong a success

Kelly Yang says the ESF is a vital part of the Hong Kong success story, as its subsidised education helps create a diverse population

One of the cardinal rules of education is "if something's working, leave it alone". Last year, ESF's South Island School students attained one of the highest International Baccalaureate (IB) results in Hong Kong - an average 36.2 points versus the worldwide average of 31.9. Just to give you an idea, only two international schools "outscored" South Island - Chinese International School with a 38-point average and United World College with a 37-point average. Fees at both are far more expensive than at ESF schools.

I've taught local students and those from elite international schools in Hong Kong for more than seven years. I know the English Schools Foundation system works, and it does so because it's cheaper.

If you take the average student and the best student from ESF schools and compare them with their international school counterparts, the former are just as strong, if not stronger. This is particularly true in secondary school. This past year, seven ESF students achieved a perfect 45 points in the IB.

I've asked myself many times why the ESF works. In theory, it shouldn't get comparable results to international schools; it has bigger class sizes and a higher student turnover, and I think ESF parents have fewer financial resources to give their children. It works because it's subsidised: by being cheaper than international schools, there's greater diversity in the student body. Unlike international schools, it's not just full of the children of bankers and lawyers.

It's this diversity that drives the students. They are motivated to do well because they know there's no safety net, no trust fund, to fall back on. When I tell an international school student they need to work harder or they'll fall behind, they yawn. When I tell an ESF student the same thing, they sit up.

The ESF should remain as it is - subsidised, in English and offering an excellent international curriculum - because it helps drive the city's success. Hong Kong is what America was 100 years ago; a place that welcomes talented immigrants. Yes, the ESF's HK$273-million-a-year subsidy seems hefty, but it's the price of having a diverse, international population, one that doesn't just help launch IPOs but also helps write our newspapers and teach our students. It is this eclectic mix that helps make Hong Kong Asia's world city.

The question remains, if the expats without lavish expat packages want to move to Hong Kong, why don't they put their children in local schools? The answer is simple: the vast majority of local schools operate in Chinese. Not only do they teach Mandarin, but most courses are also taught in Cantonese - that's just too hard for most non-Chinese-speaking families. It can be done, but I wouldn't recommend it. Education is stressful enough in Hong Kong without throwing two foreign languages into the mix.

Yes, the local system needs revamping, for a variety of reasons, not least because Hong Kong's standard of English is among the lowest in Asia. But major overhauls to the local system will take decades. In the meantime, leave the ESF alone.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.com


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This article is now closed to comments

Pardon me for taking the uninvited liberty, KY, and please
let your upperclassman hitch another ride and respond here to
jam2morrow Nov 15th 2012 9:10pm
(ESF debate boils down to what's fair, NOV 12)
What a mouthful of you tell us what?
Are you sure “world cities are pluralistic places … more pluralistic and higher standard the (sic) local schools, the better for everyone”
You must be either Swiss or Malaysian
Bilingual Indians > bilingual British + bilin American + bilin Australian
Linguistically, Anglo-Saxon schools are all monolingual
The average local school in HK is more and better bilingual than London, New York and ESF schools
Isn’t English – the language – the official defining character of ESF?
Isn’t Cantonese the official admission barrier of ESF?
How is ESF students’ Chinese as a foreign language compared with local Chinese students’ English as a foreign language?
Cut to the chase: Your pluralistic is my monolithic
Whatever is meant by “world city”;
It is one without the likes of ESF!
Value for various incomes should read (<$90M/fy)
Let me take Yang’s silence to a hitch a ride and repeat here my rejoinder to T Holland’s miscalculated “bargain” (NOV 12, 2012) – having missed SCMP debate on ESF which is now closed to comments
(1) Bargain is irrelevant. A wise manufacturer always invests in production efficiency and quality rather than picking up “bargains” of imports in a fire sale.
(2) ESF creates most of the so-called comparative per student funding shortfall as it chooses to share funding with over 30% of its students who are non resident.
(3) The subvention is exceedingly generous as we must consider ESF’s particular financial structure that involves sizeable assets ($2.1B) and various income sources (<$0.9B/fy).
(4) Realistic cost comparison (teacher’s pay adjusted by class size and tuition) will show ESF’s per student output a very poor investment.
(5) The “high” overall cost of “inefficient” local education is due largely to the fact that domestic education involves the ‘welfare” function of local teachers’ employment. This is bad enough. But subsidized ESF can’t complain.
(6) ESF’s subsidized education for expats who usurp local jobs is much worse.
(7) Worse becomes worst as ESF students unfairly compete for university places with their easier syllabus and exams, and resultant “reputation” hyperbolisation.
(8) There are also moral costs to consider: segregation, language discrimination, double standards … ESF is partly responsible for the Harrow farce.
Given ESF is responsible for providing some 20% of Ms. Yang's business, how objective do you suppose she's being here given that objectivity, rather lethargy is the cardinal rule of education?
If HK education is so successful, how come in the past 20 years I believe, we have not created a single house name international company locally besides property developer? I know Esprit, VTech or Johnson Electronics alike are related over 20 years ago if I am not mistaken. Unless you count those not so success low tech such as Milan etc...Yang, you are from Harvard so I assume you understand score is not the most important thing in education. By your standard Mark Z of Facebook is a total failure, is he?
Just want to make it clear that I'm not particularly against ESF but the overall problems of HK education, namely, high score but not creating people with knowledge or ability to innovate or excel. To illustrate more, HK 6 universities are ranked highly worldwide particularly HKU and HKUST, but my same old question, please name me a major MNC created recently in HK as a result of these wonderful universities? How come no or almost zero VC are investing in hK startups if we are so great ? By comparison, in Silicon Vally where Standford and Cornell are close by, how many startups or MNC tech companies are there?
No other comment except mine
So this has to be a self-learning experience
Unless Yang, you care enough about what you wrote
to make this a dialogue:
pro bono; no word count based reward!
Q1 Are IB results your only ‘evidence’ for the allegation about ESF being a cause of HK’s success?
Q2 Are IB results comparable like standardized public exams?
Q3 How important are IB results in the context of HK education and in the even broader context of HK’s “success”?
Q4 How would ESF’s IB results look in a “PROPER” input/output analysis?
Q5 How do you know that ESF is not a cause of HK’s failure?
Q5 Can San Fran or Boston legally adopt the ESF experience and “benefit” from it?
This will be all, the end of this "discussion", if I check tomorrow and see no followup
Nice evening
Further typo correction
L3+ should read 3L+
Repeat with typo corrections
Yang’s reorientation of her scholastic focus is amusing.
It’s exam results, stupid.
If only she would do the right maths, accounting for externalities, etc.
Yellow cheese can be white or black, depending on her client’s interest.
We shouldn’t doubt the adversarial skills of Harvard L3+
The trouble waters of HK education are teeming with deadwood,
ideal for bottom feeders
Wistful parents and children make a nice cup of tea to pedagogic carpetbaggers.
Yang’s reorientation of her scholastic focus is amusing.
It’s exam results, stupid.
If only she would do the right maths, accounting for externalities, etc.
Yellow cheese can be white or back, depending on her client’s interest.
We shouldn’t doubt the adversarial skills of Harvard L3+
The trouble waters of HK education is teeming with deadwood,
ideal for bottom feeders
Wistful parents and children make a nice cup of tea to pedagogic carpetbaggers.
I think no one has responded PSLHK because we have no idea what you are talking about. If further evidence was needed about the declining standards of linguistic competency in Hong Kong, based on the sole criteria of being able to communicate meaning clearly, succinctly and persuasively, then I think you have just provided it in abundance!


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