Public schools are for officials' kids, too

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 February, 2013, 6:08am

I have a sure way to improve the quality of our public school system. Let's force our senior officials who are parents, especially those in charge of education policy, to send their children to government and publicly funded schools. If it's good enough for us, it ought to be for them.

Our mandarins have devised school policy for the children of the masses while sending their own to elite schools, and English Schools Foundation and international schools - usually at public expense with their generous education allowance. If they had their own skin in the game, I guarantee our public system would improve in no time. OK, such enforcement would probably be illegal. So, failing that, how about revealing the kind of schools - just their types, not their names - they have sent their children to? Something drastic needs to be done.

A new Institute of Education study has made a highly disturbing finding about extreme inequality in education. The researcher, Professor Chou Kee-lee, found that children of high-income families grab far more university places than those from lower income groups. Of course, you can say that happens everywhere, but the numbers he came up with ought to shake us out of complacency.

In 2011, the enrolment rate among richer families was 3.7 times greater than that among the poor, compared with 1.2 times in 1991. And 48.2 per cent of 19- and 20-year-olds from richer families were enrolled at universities, compared with 13 per cent from lower income groups. In 1991, the figures were much closer at 9.3 per cent and 8 per cent for the rich and poor, respectively.

The findings must be seen in the context of a rapid expansion of university places. This means more students, from both rich and poor backgrounds, attended university in the past 20 years. But the richer families grab a much bigger slice of the pie. When you are well-off, your children go to good schools, which in turn send more graduates to university. So the trick is to make sure public schools are good enough to compete.

Where did ex-officials who made a complete mess of education reform, people like Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, Arthur Li Kwok-cheung and Michael Suen Ming-yeung - send their children to study? It may help if they can explain themselves.