Jake's View

ESF sense of entitlement an antiquated school of thought

If expats can't afford international education without subsidies they will just have to go home

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 2:51am

The ESF was established to provide an affordable international education for students whose home country was not necessarily Asia and whose mother tongue was not Cantonese. By freezing the subvention the government has forced the ESF to increase fees to a point where it is now a struggle for ordinary expat families to educate their children here.

Letters to the editor, Nov 7

I didn't know the English Schools Foundation was established for quite such laudable aims. I had always thought it was set up as a convenience for expatriate civil servants, just another perk of the job not extended to ordinary mortals.

But things change over time and I no longer see why it should be treated as different from any other international school. It happens to be one of the few things on which I see eye to eye with our government, a rare event indeed.

I shall also grant you there is an element of less laudable motive on my part in saying so. My wife and I enrolled our children in Chinese International School and paid every cent of the cost ourselves. It was a lot of money. I would have liked a subvention, too. Why did only ESF parents get one?

And then there is always the question of the ESF pay scale. They had to give us a glimpse of that one 10 years ago when the teachers decided that they no longer wanted to be linked to the government pay scale because civil servants were being made to take a pay reduction for a year and this just wouldn't be fair to teachers.

To establish a new pay scale, however, they first had to commission a professional teacher pay survey for comparable schools around the world. The survey found that ESF pay averaged 10 per cent above the top decile worldwide. Impressive indeed, the highest paid teachers in the world and then some. What are the standings now? Go on, folks. Tell us.

But let us get to that bit about it being a struggle for ordinary expat families to educate their children here.

I'm sure it's true in a large number of cases. It's not an education problem, however. It's an expatriate pay problem. If these people are not paid enough to make ESF affordable then they must tell their employers to pay more or, if the employers refuse, put their children in local school.

And if local school is too daunting a prospect, then their solution is to go back home to the countries from which they came and put their children in the public school systems there.

There is no getting around it. If employers find that the difference in ability between expatriate and local hires is not great enough to justify the extra cost of international school for the children of expatriate hires then there is little reason to prefer expatriate over local hires.

There may have been a time when expatriate hires could really demonstrate superior ability in some fields but, if ever there was such a time, it has long passed.

About 35 per cent of our workforce now has tertiary-level education. What can Europe bring Hong Kong now except people who are more desperate to find work?

It's my impression that over the past few years there has been a substantial increase in the number of expatriates from some western European countries, most notably France. When I ask why they come, the most common answer is that things are so bad at home there is no work to be found.

This may be a very good reason for leaving home to find work abroad but it is no reason for the public purse in Hong Kong to provide special subsidies to these people to give their children an international education.

ESF parents will just have to buckle down to it. No special deals. If you can't pay up for international education and won't tolerate a Chinese cultural environment for your children's schools, then go back home. Hong Kong doesn't lose.