My Take

Clarity at last on future of the ESF

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 3:08am

The die is cast. ESF schools are international schools. As such, government funding will be phased out. That's the gist of education chief Eddie Ng Hak-kim's letter to the Post yesterday to clarify a major gaffe he made in Legco this month.

Bravo! After a decade, the government has come clean and made a decision on the English Schools Foundation. It's not one I endorse but it is one that probably most sides, except those who can't afford unsubsidised international schooling, could accept. The ESF will prosper as it will be free to charge million-dollar debentures and rebuild its ageing campuses to five-star standards, and parents will queue to send their kids there.

This should end all the editorialising over ESF funding. But just this once, it's worth explaining what Ng's gaffe was and why it was made, because the issue involved points to the division of local and international schooling in our system and its future.

Ng apparently told lawmakers that the ESF must introduce a local rather than international curriculum if it wants to keep its subvention. But the government has never made such a demand and the ESF will never do it.

What Ng was really trying to say is: the way for the ESF to receive full funding is most likely via the direct subsidy (DS) funding model.

But only schools teaching pupils based on local curriculums and exams are eligible for DS. Therefore, DS is not applicable to the ESF as it is not - and cannot go - local. (By the way, this local-curriculum-only funding rule on DS is the real reason for the "one-way traffic" of locals going to international schools. It's not because the latter are so superior, but because many locals aim for overseas study while few non-locals would study for local exams.)

But why not relax DS funding rules? ESF schools could then receive funding; and top-notch DS schools could take in more foreign students and locals who want to switch by adopting a new international stream in addition to the local stream. This would take pressure off international schools by creating more "two-way traffic".

This has been proposed by various DS school leaders and yours truly. But in the way bureaucrats think about funding, local is local and international is international, and never the twain shall meet!