Misguided policies mean poor pupils in Hong Kong are missing out

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 3:27am

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The government admits Hong Kong will be short of 4,200 international primary school places by 2016. The allocation of three vacant school premises at nominal land premiums for international schools to provide 1,700 places goes some way towards closing the gap. But it does not reflect the urgency of warnings from business leaders about the negative impact on the city of the difficulty in placing relocated students, or the growing demand from both expatriate and local parents for an international education. One business spokesman has described it as a business issue as well as an education issue, with the city at risk of missing out on foreign talent.

Meanwhile, education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen, the Civic Party's Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok and Native English Teachers Association chairwoman Amanda Chapman have all deplored what they see as a focus on the needs of the elite, including local and mainland children with foreign passports whose parents can afford international schools. The decision of the English Schools Foundation to drop its admissions priority for non-Chinese speakers may underline this trend.

Chan is right to call on the government to release the full findings of a survey of international school places and undertake studies on affordability. That should just be a start on addressing the equity of the whole system in terms of educational outcomes. A study by Professor Chou Kee-lee of the Hong Kong Institute of Education showed that in 2011 48.2 per cent of 19- and 20-year-olds from the wealthiest 10 per cent of families were enrolled at university, compared with 11 per cent of those from families with incomes less than half the median level. Overall enrolment rates in university and non-degree tertiary courses were nearly 80 per cent for the rich and 41 per cent for the poor. These figures show that the benefits of economic growth and a huge public investment in higher education have not filtered down to the poor, potentially exacerbating a wealth gap. Hong Kong cannot afford to neglect the role of education in developing home-grown talent.