• Mon
  • Jul 14, 2014
  • Updated: 2:17pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 May, 2013, 2:32am

A lesson for the pig-headed bureaucrats

The government says it wants Hong Kong to be an education hub and a world city but it simply refuses to consider simple changes to its school subsidy policy that would go a long way towards achieving those goals.

Admission to international and English Schools Foundation schools is highly competitive. Even if you secure a place, high tuition fees and debentures can bankrupt your family, if you are not fabulously wealthy or on an expat pay package. Still, many local families are leaving the local system for the international-school sector. Meanwhile, land is at a premium so it would be difficult to offer more public land to build overpriced international schools. The queues will just get longer, even if you can pay.

Yeah, yeah, I know the issues are complicated. But let me be a simpleton. Some direct subsidy schools and the council that represent them have already suggested at least the beginning of a solution, if only those bloody-minded bureaucrats at the Education Bureau would listen instead of flat out refusing to consider their suggestion.

Some DSS schools have been running an international stream based on either the International Baccalaureate or the more British GCSE, with much lower fees. These have attracted not only expatriate but also local Chinese students. So why can't they expand, relieve pressure on international schools and reform our local school system with a more international outlook? Well, because the bureau says DSS rules require the curriculums they teach to cater to local students and prepare them for local exams. In short, local schools are for local kids. A DSS school like the YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College in Tung Chung, which has a 70 per cent expat student population, has tweaked a Chinese-language programme enough to teach expat kids effectively.

Why won't the bureau do more? My guess is that it's just pig-headedness with these bloody-minded functionaries. Oh sorry, I guess I should mind my manners. Cherry Tse Ling Kit-ching, permanent secretary for education, is coming to our office to give a talk.

Too bad her boss Eddie "I'm clueless over national education" Ng Hak-kim is not coming. It would be fun to grill, deep-fry and stir-fry him too.


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This article is now closed to comments

You're being disrespectful of yourself
paying accomplice to a s coun drel
who lied and invaded privacy
as you use an address
other than how a commentator is identified
Behave yourself and focus on the matter and not the person
if you’re really interested in a meaningful discussion
It’s clear and everybody knows
expat families are mostly middle class
and some are in fact poor
My point is children of poor local families
Get no special admission to subsidized “international” schools
The misunderstanding is yours
My disagreement with AL is that
there shouldn’t be double standards in education
IB qualifies schools which then confer a diploma that isn’t open to outsiders
I don’t think such arrangement is fair
High schools students following practically identical curricula
should take the same public exams
Local public examination should be a requirement for subsidized schools
although students may take any overseas exams too if they wish
The discussion is about education, “international” and “local”
which I think there isn’t any material difference in substance
What makes the real difference, is the exams for which these schools prepare their students
ESF, a sad and outdated joke, isn’t relevant for this discussion
You refer to Mike Rowse
whose style I find stilted and, arguments shallow
Many of HK schools are self-styled international
for self-serving purposes
Let's not get distracted. I figured out that you must be the same person who has so many letters published in the SCMP long before the "scoundrel" to whom you refer published that comment.
I have no opinion on whether ESF should follow the local syllabus and have students take local exams, but I have to take issue with your assertion that parents choose ESF schools because IGCSE and IB Diploma are "easier". But your views are clear from your description of the ESF as a "a sad and outdated joke", so there really is no point trying to discuss this.
I am puzzled by your point that "children of poor local families get no special admission to subsidized “international” schools". That's a different issue. I think we would all agree that poor people generally get worse education, and I thought I was the one arguing that the government should do more for the non-Chinese speakers who currently get a raw deal.
Though actually the ESF does offer scholarships at Renaissance College, but it's a small number and I don't think they are restricted to poor families.
Thank you for your reply
I agree “that the government should do more for the non-Chinese speakers who currently get a raw deal”.
I’m not sure about “poor people generally get worse education”,
which seems like a global observation applicable everywhere
which we may transcribe for discussion as the hypothesis
that better of families get better quality schooling for their children.
But how to measure better schooling?
From a social perspective, social mobility is an important measure
Do children from a background similar to CY Leung and Donald Tseng
have schooling opportunities comparable to that available then to the future ceo’s?
I’d think maybe
But would they have (Leung / Tseng )’s social mobility opportunities?
I’d think probably not
Why is schooling not meeting social expectation for the education required for upward mobility?
Social expectation isn’t blameless
Self confidence is what HK most needs to improve local education
We mustn’t totally discount the much admired qualities measured by Pisa and so forth
Switzerland demographically similar to HK has developed IB
Why can’t HK?
When I have a free moment, I’d try to explain my idea in a 2 by2 matrix
But between this and my last comment
I was out working on a project which I must finish
before taking a month vacation with family and MBF
The Education Bureau is indeed pig headed and bloody minded, but the grudge against the ESF was begun by the supremely arrogant, pig headed Arthur Li, who, pandering to the most bigoted and ignorant level of public opinion in his ambition to become Chief Executive, initiated the cuts in government subvention, which are in truth motivated by a racist attitude against giving money to educate "foreigners", but you will never get them to look in the mirror and admit the truth.
'of the 12,922 pupils attending ESF schools last year, 69 per cent were Hong Kong permanent residents. we can safely assume that far from having a handy home to pack up and go back to, for the vast majority of ESF pupils and their parents, Hong Kong is their home....the ESF received just short of HK$270 million in government subventions...worked out to a subsidy per pupil of almost HK$21,000.. But to work out just how generous, we need to compare it with the money the government pays to educate children in its own schools..I couldn't find any enrolment figures specifically for government schools, direct subsidy schools and bought place scheme schools. But working back from the number of teachers employed in the public sector and the education bureau's figures for student-teacher ratios, it appears that for the latest financial year, there were 658,000 pupils attending public sector schools.The government provided almost HK$33 billion in direct funding for those schools, which works out at a cost to the public purse per pupil of HK$50,000. In other words, the ESF is a relative bargain, costing the government HK$29,000 less per pupil than its own school system. But the other international schools do get government subsidies, mainly in the form of favourable grants of land. Harrow School, the government has provided it with an interest free loan of HK$273 million.
Interesting figures. I am going to assume they are correct. There is a fallacy in your argument though. The government is not getting a bargain at all, the only one getting a bargain are the majority of ESF students.

1. As proven by the ESF's own steady fee increases over the past decade or so, the demand for ESF places is relatively inelastic. Even the debentures have not restored balance in demand vs supply.
2. Current ESF fees are roughly 65k~100k pa. If the ESF subsidy were cancelled, fees would have to rise by 21k, so to 86k~121k.
3. The big question is how many students would be forced (or choose) to leave ESF then, and instead go to a DSS school. Now, personally, I think this will be <10% (see 1), but let's generously assume it would be 25%.
4. That would be 3,250 students. These are the ones who are currently really benefiting from the 270m. That is HKD 83k per head. The rest of the ESF parents (75%) would pay more if they had to, and are currently benefiting from a classic consumer surplus, at the cost of the taxpayer and at the cost of DSS students.

If the 270m would be redirected at, say, the top 20 DSS schools with the long-term aim of turning those into educational institutions at par with ESF or better, this would be a much way of spending the money in economic terms.

And don't get me wrong, I am not saying this is the best solution to the problem, but let's not pretend the ESF is actually a bargain for the government and doing us all a favour.
You have the best argument yet. Although my knee jerk reaction is cut out unnecessary bickering and foot the subsidies by ESF schools because it's only "loose change" to our educational budget, 100 million here and there could add up to big money.
But couldn't you follow the same logic about the top DSS schools? You could say that students there are getting a bargain, so the government could reduce the subsidy, and enough parents would be willing to pay the higher fees for the schools to survive.
But - the government has a huge surplus, so why can't they use some of it to improve education for everyone?
Yes, to your first question in principle. But there is a key difference: the DSS schools play by the rules, those stay the EDB, and including important ones about accessibility and maximum fees. Those rules exist to keep education, including the best schools, within reach of all, which I would consider an important part of having some degree of fairness and social mobility in society. So sure, many DSS parents could afford a lot more, but we have set a certain ceiling price for education and agreed that the government supplies the shortfall.

The ESF does not fit this bill anymore. It is unaffordable for the large majority of households in HK, and refuses to play by the EDB's other rules as well when it comes to exams, accessibility, accountability etc. That is fine, but that really makes it an international school in all but name, and it should not be getting the DSS funding, unless we decide that this is all fine, and that we subsidise all schools, regardless of whether they offer local exams and fulfill the other EDB requirements.

And as for your second question, yes, I'd be in favour of that. In fairness, they have been and are increasing the education budget almost every year, despite falling student numbers. But yes, a lot more could still be done.
This is all political. The ESF is "unaffordable" because the subvention has been cut in half (in real terms).
Let's face facts. There is nothing the ESF can do that will be good enough for the Education Bureau.
Back in 2001 Canadian Overseas International School closed suddenly, and the ESF stepped in to take over at very short notice. Now they are stuck with two school operating under the PIS scheme alongside the original ESF schools receiving subvention.
The ESF Ordinance was completely re-written, the governance strengthened, and the ESF has said that it is willing to be more accountable to the government. But that wasn't good enough either.




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