• Fri
  • Dec 26, 2014
  • Updated: 12:44am
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 does go to the core of the issue of ESF funding. The major problem with ESF funding is that the from the government's point of view, they cannot have it both ways: either you get full subsidy (DSS style) and you agree to prepare students for HK exams, or you prepare them for non-HK exams, and don't get money.

Pragmatically speaking, and given the evident demand for non-local exam preparing schools, what Mr Lo is proposing sounds sensible. As an added benefit, if we fully allow DSS schools to teach non-local curriculum, we can welcome the ESF (back) into the DSS fold and solve that issue. But it does raise a new set of problems. What exams is acceptable? The British and IB are non-controversial, but should we then also allow and fund schools who would like to adopt for example the mainland Chinese exams? Or the American ones? Indian? Are we thus going to subsidise all international schools? It becomes a slippery slope. I can't think of any good reason to grant money to schools prepping students for the UKGCE, but refuse it to a school wanting to do this for any other overseas exam.

Now, we could decide that this is all fine - that it should just be totally up to parents' choices what they want their kids to learn. But I have sympathy for the idea of not granting government money to schools the government will subsequently have no control over. How to draw the line?
Does the government have control over DSS schools? I thought we had established that they don't really supervise them properly.
So, yes, why not let funding go with the students. Bad schools won't survive!!
"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." Is this a joke? Plus in recent years our unvisitites are ranked highest in Asia. But the math does not add up. Why? We have not seen a major local innovation or IPO for the past 10 to 20 years from these university students like what we see in Silicon Valley or Korean alike.
If universities fail to turn out successful innovation and business, I don't see how it can be successful and ranked so highly. By simply publicating numerous international paper etc will not do the job. I urge all local universities to stop focusing on these useless ranking but focus on turning out more creative students.
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
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.
Compare the location, facilities of ESF schools, wages, benefits & contract terms of the staff with local schools. They are better even than independent UK boarding schools where S fees for ONE TERM is 20-30% more than ESF fees for ONE YEAR. Expatriates and senior locals have overseas education allowance with annual return passage and housing in package salary. There is a choice, no hardship or justifiable sympathy. Its affordable for most but many save thousands from their allowance. Boarding school in UK will cost up to six times more after adding living expenses, pocket money, parents' visits and guardians' fees.
ESF parents and schools want independent operation of their specially located schools, super facilities and multi-benefit staff, with equal funding of the spartan local schools whose staff enjoy a fraction of benefits of their ESF counterparts.
They want cake with icing when locals have less than bread. Save your sympathy for better causes than ESF schools and parents.
As for not diverting traffic to the DSS schools, does Mr Lo know there is at least one high profile DSS school which cannot get enough students?
And as for teaching Chinese 'effectively' in DSS schools to expat kids don't make my laugh.It likely to be much worse than French, German and Spanish in UK schools: grotty. Mr Lo must be happy with the standard of the English and Chinese of the average Hong Kong child who studies in these languages through his whole life? Get real.




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