Hong Kong does not need more international schools. It needs local schools that are capable of educating expatriate students at an affordable price. That is the way it is done in almost all international cities in the Western world.
It is the only way for a modern city like Hong Kong to reform its wasteful and monstrously complicated education system to achieve both equal opportunity and quality for all - local and expat, rich and poor, Chinese and ethnic minority. That ought to be our vision and our goal. Yet few people in Hong Kong share it.
It infuriates me every time the international business community complains about insufficient places and demands the building of more international schools with public resources. Local educators and lawmakers, who ought to know better, duly repeat the demand. Officials like Eddie Ng Hak-kim act guiltily for failing to please the expats. The latest call came from British Chamber of Commerce executive director Christopher Hammerbeck. "This is not an education issue any more," he said. "It's a business issue. This is a strong case for adding facilities." Really? How can someone be so wrong on so many counts in such a short statement?
First, if we tackle education like a business issue, then it will follow the business cycle too. This means when China goes into a downturn or their own countries' economies improve, many expat families will go, just like they did during the Asian financial crisis and the Sars outbreak, leaving empty places at international schools. These will be filled by locals. But it makes a mockery of free local education, now effectively for the poor; and it creates a shortage for expats in the next upturn cycle.
Next. If, as the chamber said, overseas talent is itching to work in Hong Kong because of poor job prospects at home, they will come anyway. In good times, we may need to bend over backwards to attract them. But not now!
Finally, not all expats are on expat packages. Expensive international schools will not help them. They need affordable schooling.
What parent, expat or local, wouldn't embrace an affordable, good-quality public education for their children providing a good grounding in English and Chinese? We have the money for it; we just lack the will and vision.