My Take

Identities blurred in education scramble

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 4:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 May, 2014, 4:15am

There has been much finger-wagging ever since the prestigious British school Malvern College said its planned Hong Kong campus will reserve up to 90 per cent of places for expatriate children. But how does it plan to enforce it?

From one side are critics who argue it's discriminatory, even racist, to allow an international school using public resources to exclude local families. The Worcestershire-based school is expected to receive a large plot of land in Tai Po from the government for free. This has been standard practice with international schools. Harrow International School previously won a prime site in Tuen Mun.

My guess is that if Malvern wins the site, it will also get a large interest-free - or extremely low-interest - loan from the government for campus construction with a long repayment period. This too is standard practice. Mind you, that doesn't stop many private international schools demanding million-dollar debentures from new parents.

On the other hand, the government and business community have argued, not unreasonably, that our large expat population needs schools that cater to their own language and curriculum requirements. Most of them don't want to attend local schools; and even if they had wanted to, our schools are barred from taking them in except for a token few.

The real source of conflict is not that these schools should or should not accept locals, but that it is completely arbitrary with each school or school chain deciding on their own admission policy. It's different elsewhere. Singapore bars the crossover of students between international and local schools. In most Western countries, everyone attends the same government school system, unless they are very wealthy. Not in Hong Kong, with our one city, two education systems, with quite a few hybrids in between. There is the 70:30 rule for a cap of 30 per cent of locals at the new international schools. For existing schools, the ratio is 50:50. But who are the expats? Many local families hold foreign passports, so schools find it easy to get around such rules.

So long as there is a heavy demand for international schooling among locals, you just can't stop them from attending.