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  • Apr 18, 2014
  • Updated: 9:01pm
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.



This article is now closed to comments

every child born in HKG or with a permanent ID card should get the same Government education allowance whether ethnic chinese , eurasian, caucasian, south east asian, african , Romulan or other ethnic background. Children are children and are entitled to relevant education. Their parents can then choose which appropriate school to use the allowance in. Is that not fair ?
The children should be subvented, not the schools.What actually happens as pointed out previously in Tom Holland's column is that DSS students are subvented twice as much as ESF students. Is that fair in 'Asia's World City' ? Government should cease paying for its employees' children to attend ESF schools (and later to overseas universities) and substitute a unilateral education allowance for each child. They should also allow tax breaks against the funds used for children's education as a matter of fairness. HK Govt recognises local families do not want family growth because they cannot afford associated costs but they do nothing to alleviate matters.
Yes, correct. Here's an article written by Mike Rowse:
"The problem in Hong Kong stems from the fact" that our education officials subsidise schools, not children. Putting the institutions ahead of the humans may be administratively easy, but it has created all manner of anomalies. Many children at our international schools are 'local' but receive no subsidy at all to help towards meeting the very high fees.
Scrap the banding system and allow schools the flexibility to meet international school standards. Why should the wealthy and expat students get the best education possible? All students should have the same opportunities.
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
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.
The amount any DSS school receives is simply based on the number of students it enrols. I don't see how we can make the link child-subsidy any more direct.

This is confounding the issue. The point of contention between the ESF and the government is about the core qualification for a school to get DSS money: you may teach any way you want, but you have to be preparing students to sit local exams.

The ESF refuses to do this. They want to continue preparing students for UK and IB exams. And good for them, as there is obviously a demand for this, and there is more than a few flaws to point at in the HKDSE curriculum, to put it mildly.

Now, you may agree or disagree whether the EDB should subsidise the education that prepares kids to take exams it has no control over, but to make emotionally-laden arguments about 'subsidising schools, not children' does not help to solve the problem at hand. What we need to speak about is whether the HK taxpayer should be paying for little Johnny preparing to take his UKGCE, or any other overseas exam, instead of the HKDSE.
Yes, the ESF subsidy used to be based on the number of students as well, but that's not the point. It's that the government decides which schools can get the subsidy.
What's strange is that government is still paying a subsidy to the ESF, and allows DSS schools to have 49% of students sitting overseas exams, and provides subsidies (in one form or another) to International schools. There's not really any consistent policy!
Is the Education Bureau really interested in what parents want?
I think you missed the point of this article. Alex Lo is suggesting that DSS schools should be allowed to follow PYP/MYP/IB rather than being forced to follow the local curriculum. It's not about the funding of the ESF.
Thanks for telling that teaching of Chinese in DSS schools is "likely" to be poor. Can we all suggest things are likely to be true?



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