• Wed
  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 11:29pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 3:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 May, 2014, 3:55am

English Schools Foundation happy to let market forces dictate

A while ago, I asked a permanent secretary for education why the government should phase out funding for ESF schools when both locals and expatriates attend them.

There is, after all, the English Schools Foundation mandate to provide affordable education to those who can't integrate into the local Chinese school system. Then, there is the long-standing promise and policy of the government to provide free or subsidised education for all.

By my (mis)understanding, the government then had a double mandate not only to continue funding the ESF but to double down on it.

But no, the senior official said, putting me in my place. "When you decide to leave the local school system," she said, "you become responsible for paying for schools outside the system." It's the same for foreigners or expatriates.

She considers it the government's responsibility to make available the private international schools, but not the means to attend them, that is, paying for them. So tough luck if you can't afford them. Now, you may disagree with it, but that is the government policy, which has a certain unassailable, brutal logic. You either include ESF in the direct subsidy school scheme or let it go. The government does the latter; and ESF management is more than happy with that, whatever it says publicly.

Three of seven elected parent representatives have resigned from the ESF board of governors as a protest against plans to raise fees and capital from parents. It's a noble gesture but a futile one.

When public subsidy for ESF ends in 2016, its schools will become private, and they will charge the exorbitant fees and debentures that international schools now charge. They are certain to do so given their dire needs to upgrade existing facilities, which have decayed in the past decade due to insufficient public funding.

Given the phenomenal demand for international schooling in Hong Kong, the ESF will be able to charge whatever it wants. This brutal logic is summarised by an ex-board member: "The board wants to see the government subsidy go away so ESF can go private and do whatever it wants."

Exactly! Once funding stops, there is no alternative.


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This article is now closed to comments

What the Education department should do is create a new ESF under the DSS scheme, which is completely separate from the existing one.
Given that both the current ESF and the government will never see eye to eye again, it's time to go their separate ways.
For the new ESF, same curriculm and oversight as most local schools, but with more of an International school teaching style. Without many of the capital costs, it should be significantly cheaper then many of the International schools.
Children are screwed in Hong Kong. Sure sign of a sick society when children and old people are of little concern to government.
International schools exist because the quality of education in local school system is miserable.
Particularly, they have forgotten english to keep the children isolated from the world - dumb!!!
There is not such widespread use of international schools in english speaking countries - why?
Easy. Make it mandatory for ALL government senior officials to have their own children go to local schools from Primary 1. You will see change right away.
If the government actually planned to spend more on the local school system to improve it, then one MIGHT understand the government decision to cut ESF funding and focus on the local system. It could spend money on better school facilities, more sports facilities, smaller class sizes, updated, curriculum, better teachers, etc. Instead, money sits in reserves, in surplus, and is spent on bridges and trains to nowhere that nobody in Hong Kong wants.
We all know that the HK government doesn't want to spend any money or effort on the average HK person - not on hospitals, schools, cleaner air, parks and neighbourhood sports facilities, and certainly not on income support for the poorest of the poor.
Dear Mr. Lo,
Can you give us the Lo-down on how many government officials children actually attend the local public schools & how our secretary of education can have the audacity to always pride himself with the fact that HK has such great international schools - which has absolutely nothing to do with his department. These are run by pro bono boards without compensation.
Thank you.
The government servants (irrespective of seniority) must serve to improve the local shool system so that people do not have to leave it to try to afgord schools that are beyond their means. We do not want the govt to take the people hostage and give awful education.
govt school system that cant even educate in english and prepare high quality talent is doing a major disservice, unless of course the goal is stunt their growth and let the rulers rule.
Leaving to "markets" is shunning responsible action is education officers. There does not even seem to be any intenet to do anything. How uneducated!
"When public subsidy for ESF ends in 2016, its schools will become private, and they will charge the exorbitant fees and debentures that international schools now charge"
The subsidy will remain for existing students
New incoming students will be on a different rate
I would accept the local school system if they were half as good as the ESF one. Sadly no! Ironic that HK School system was confirmed to be one of the top system in the world...sad again. It produces the half-baked bureaucrats we have in HK......
I don't know whether the ESF is happy per se to let market forces dictate, but they won't have any other choice now.

The government tried for nearly 15 years to get the ESF to join the DSS programme, a scheme the outlines of which were specifically designed to also be able to accommodate the ESF.

The ESF refused to make the necessary changes to allow this. They did not want to convert their curriculum to prepare a majority of students for HK exams (instead of for UK ones like they do now), and they did not want to submit to the minimum amount of EDB oversight the DSS requires.

As Mr Lo correctly asserts: the government can't be expected to finance schools that operate outside of the system. There is not a country in the world that does. If we'd finance the (UK-exam teaching) ESF schools, we'd also have to be financing every other international school in the city. Imagine what such a policy would result in. We'd see international school from all corners of the world descend upon Hong Kong like vultures.

It is a great shame that the ESF schools will thus become even more unaffordable and well out of reach of the average citizen, but this is a choice the ESF very consciously made. Don't blame the government, blame the ESF.




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