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My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2012, 7:36am

Time to ditch elitist expat class system

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.


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Caractacus, thank you for the warning. I understand and may choose to ignore your incontinence below. Now, do you have any meaningful and objective comment on the subject matter for our consideration?
caractacus Nov 2nd 2012
You are an ignorant, racist bigot. Look in the mirror, if you dare, and see the log in your own eye.
Caractacus, are you kidding – “Ethnic Chinese children whose parents cannot afford private or semi private education receive a relatively poor education by international standards, end up with poor English language skills and consequently limited prospects”? Our everyman’s local secondary schools have produced three Nobel laureates.
We, five of us in two generations, are an average local family with primary and secondary education in average local schools before earning our degrees from two of the world’s top five universities.
If you’re good, no one (except ESF - that's why it shouldn't be given any public funding) would care about your linguistic background or race. But you must compete. Anyone who wants subsidized education should compete for places in subsidized schools, fairly. We competed for places in local secondary schools. We overcame difficulties and competed successfully when we were foreign students in the top universities. Why do you think with your 30-year HK experience, yours are above “inferior local” education and entitled to subsidized “superior international” education? Are yours so superior that they need no competition?
Those who are nostalgic about colonial privileges should learn to read the writing on the wall.
A significant portion of the student body of international school are Chinese from wealthy families many holding foreign passport and not even able to speak or read Chinese proficiently, producing "Made-in-HK Bananas" - yellow outside and "white" inside. This is not to mention that quality of education since the 70s had deteriorated that we were neither proficient in Chinese nor English because our teachers themselves are not properly educated and trained. One look and listening to our civil servants will make this observation obvious. We can limit the number and enrollment of international schools while employing more expatriate teachers - China included.- to improve the quality of education.
If the government was willing to provide good quality bilingual education at affordable prices I am sure the school places would be in high demand by parents of all ethnicities. The major problem, however, is that since 1997 education in HK has been highly politicised by some who had no vision for the education system, whose motives were sometimes questionable and injected their new-found 'patriotism' into the debate. Arthur Li's politically motivated campaign against the ESF is one example and 12 years later the prejudice continues.
By the way, I was born outside HK, am not ethnic Chinese, have lived here for 30 years and am a self employed HK permanent resident. I receive no allowances. So am I an "expat" or a local? What does that make my children who were born here? It seems that for many 'locals' race is at the heart of the reasons why my children are not given the same funding as Government gives to children in Government, DSS or aided schools.
Ethnic Chinese children whose parents cannot afford private or semi private education receive a relatively poor education by international standards, end up with poor English language skills and consequently limited prospects. They deserve better, but this is not the fault of the 'expats'. Education is first and foremost the responsibility of Government, and this government is failing the children miserably. Talk about cutting off one's nose to spite the face.
Meanwhile, the score remains Singapore 5 : Hong Kong 0.
what you are saying is in many instances correct - we are still in the days of the colony - HK needs to look at itself and re-progam the education system to enable the locals and children of people from out of HK to get a decent education. Its very obvious the guys in charge have no idea about modern education formats. The education people need to modernise the system FAST as part of an effort to bring HK up to the level that is of benefit to the people living here and to attract the real people who wants to enhance their career.
You're bashing separate issues together and tarring them all with the same brush. It seems your real beef is with aristocracy, though I know the privileged expat meme is an easy and well-established target for opprobrium by deadline-pressed columnists. But where is your bile for the children of (duly patriotic) tycoons and at least one former chief executive who attended international schools in HK? Who is responsible for changing the system if not citizens?
As for the schools themselves, here's the thing: to non-permanent resident students, they are just a place to study. In my class at Hong Kong International School we had disciplinary problems and drug addicts as well as Ivy League contenders. Today, most of my former classmates are (back) in the U.S. leading what I would call ordinary lives, not running companies listed on HKEx. Times have changed, but the elite symbolism is as much your own perception as the students' reality.
On implementation, I'm with Greenwash: please put some effort into effecting positive change before you start talking of removing privileges. Meanwhile, the government is sitting on 611 billion dollars of fiscal reserves. How about kicking their trousers a bit more?
It takes a village to bring up a child (an African proverb?). We cannot ignore that parents are the first educators of the children. I received my primary and secondary education in Hong Kong, and then went to Canada for my post-secondary education in 1970's. My academic fulfillment can testify that.
My two children attended the public school system in Alberta, Canada. They are now medical doctors. If they were in Hong Kong, I would be certain that they could have fulfilled the same dreams, because their mother stayed home to discipline them (Note: their mother is not a Tiger Mom!). My children told us that the majority of their fellow doctors also had their mothers stayed home to look after them while they were in primary and secondary schools.
I am not discounting the importance of good schools, but parenthood is equally important. By the way, my secondary school in Hong Kong is not considered elite but run by the caring Salesian Fathers. Nevertheless, it is my own opinion.
international schools? just overpriced nurseries for underprivileged kids to mingle within their own social class. 'Elitism' captures it succinctly. A high quality student-centered education hub that is affordable, egalitarian and founded upon principles of educating not for profit? Think 20th century colonial missionary schools.
Both Expats and locals want to send their kids to international schools. People make decisions based on what they can afford and if they want to pay the price then why not let them. If local schools want to compete then they can. The government has the money to improve local schools. But what Alex Lo failed to mention is that in Canada / US and UK there is vast differences in local public schools. The better public schools are in the wealthier areas. You even see this in HK where people are paying a premium to live in Kowloon Tong and HK Island. Parents with the means will always seek out the best for their Children whether it is where they live or what school they can pay for.
HK System works well as unlike public schools the parents are paying for their kids’ education. It should leave allot more $$ available for public school kids to have smaller class sizes and better resources. (current system benefits local schools).
Cart before the horse. First, reform the Hong Kong public education system so that it meets the standards expected of the international business community. Second, if and when the public education system meets international expectations, then people will vote with their feet/ wallet and enrol their children in the local system. We all know that the current HK public education system does not meet these international expectations, so there is no point getting upset about it. Mr Hammberbeck of the British Chamber is simply voicing reality. Expatriates and many Hong Kong people alike do not feel the local system is a reasonable choice and will leave Hong Kong (or will not come to HK) if international standard schooling is not available. This IS hurting Hong Kong's competitiveness and it is a business issue. Frustrating as it may be, there is no denying it.
In an age where Universities stresses the benefits of having student diversity on campus. Our local primary and secondary school should follow this example.
However, the local schools have different teaching methods to current international schools, and expat children find it very difficult to study in local schools. Maybe this can also be reviewed to accommodate more expatriate students.
I think the introduction of the 334 system was a success and good for Hong Kong students in the long term. Our education department can follow this up by reforming our local school system to match the expectation of an international city.
History will condemn Cheung Man-kwong as the culprit and the “Democratic" Party as the obstruction of Hong Kong public education’s development for the past two decades.
In education, Cheung, is a segregation fanatic. The late Alabama governor George Wallace would laugh in the grave for the proud Cheung has done him.
Cheung is the idol of deadwood and cultivates deadwood in the city’s otherwise respectable teaching profession. His crony “democracy” should put many third world authoritarian cliques to shame.
The “world city” title is a hoax. Respectable cities like Geneva and Taipei won’t wear that emperor’s dress called “world city”.
The only "strength” of some of the expats who usurp local jobs is their groundless “self-confidence”. In education and ability, very few have any advantage and most are even inferior. To make up for deficiency, they act “confident”; after all, “confidence” is cheap and all they have - with little else to lose.
They pretend to be offering their “experience” whereas in fact they are gaining experience. My impression of those I’ve met is a general tendency of superficial self-importance by making something mundane and straight forward seem profound. Bigotry affects their development of depth. As they migrate about, they promote their superficial "international" knowledge.
Expat firms prefer expats to keep locals in place. Expats’ undeserved privileges obstruct the city’s normal social development.
You are an ignorant, racist bigot. Look in the mirror, if you dare, and see the log in your own eye.
Some one has a chip on their shoulder. You used the word "Bigotry", reflect on that.
Please focus on the speech and not the speaker, and speak before you preach.
What upset me is to see that some public schools have to shutdown due to insufficient number of pupils.
And in the meantime there is not enough seats at international schools ...
Who writes the headlines to your articles? "Elitist" sets the tone yet nothing is said of it in the piece itself. If you had something in mind to say along those lines, it should have been explained by you not just flung out, offensively, in the headline.
The article itself makes no sense at all. The case for international schools is that they are an essential component in attracting and keeping international talent/investment in Hong Kong. We know they're expensive and we also know that many places are taken by children from local families. The mix of local and expat students is a wonderful breeding ground for breaking down international borders and making Hong Kong an integral part of the world community, establishing a tangible basis for the World City claim.
That the government under-resources local schools is notorious and a separate issue entirely. Write another article on that and don't confuse it with legitimate and valuable endeavours to provide more suitable places for "expat" children to pursue an internationally-oriented education.
Well said. This is not an expat issue; it is a class issue. The majority of local schools are just not equipped to take in students from non-Chinese speaking families. These families are not expats in the traditional sense. Of course, we may ask why these children (mostly born in HK) are not Chinese speaking, but the reasons for this are numerous. The fact is, that any non-English speaking child in the UK or the US can integrate into a mainstream non-private school relatively smoothly - the same should be true of Hong Kong.
Agree 100%. The international schools are filled with local students as anyone who can afford it will shun the vastly inferior public schools. Improving the public schools should be the priority. We can afford it.
Regarding a business case, I run an SME and must turn down overseas applicants with the skills I seek because we can't afford the international school fees and local schools are simply not suitable. So, my business suffers and my local staff lose opportunities to develop.


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