The transformation of a uniquely Hong Kong institution into an elitist English-language educator is gathering pace. The English Schools Foundation has just revealed its latest move to make up for the progressive loss of its government subsidy from 2016. It had already introduced HK$500,000 non-refundable debentures to enable parents to reserve up to 150 places in each year's intake. Now it is considering allowing companies to pay to reserve places for their employees' children.
Neither measure will stem fee rises as the government phases out a HK$283 million subsidy already frozen for a decade. Parents at the ESF's 20 schools and kindergartens face a rise of 23 per cent for new students from 2016.
The latest comment from an Education Bureau spokesman reveals an indiscriminate official mindset towards educational opportunity: "Continuation [of the subsidy] flies in the face of government policy of not providing recurrent subsidy to schools mainly running non-local curriculum." There is no discussion of government responsibility in equity for supporting education for non-Chinese-speaking children of resident families, or local families who choose to educate their children in English in the international sector.
That would seem to fly in the face of Hong Kong's best interests, which call for a fair, affordable and diverse educational system that best serves its competitiveness as an international city. It is a complex issue that need not be painted so black and white. The government contributes twice as much per pupil in support for schools in the Direct Subsidy Scheme, which provide a more affordable English-language education for local parents. But it still lacks local schools that offer an alternative to expatriates and aspirational local families. The chance is being missed to make ESF schools more accessible to local families, and at the same time give DSS schools more curriculum freedom to compete. This could be the foundation of a fairer, more sensible system.