Top schools must be for all
Practically every self-respecting international school in Hong Kong sells debentures to aspiring applicants. Now, a local private school has broken with tradition and follows suit.
St Stephen's College Preparatory School in Stanley has become the first of 32 local private schools to introduce a HK$1 million debenture.
While the face value looks hefty, it is far from being the most expensive. The most sought-after international schools could charge double or triple that amount, and still have a queue of wealthy parents eager to buy one.
So in the international school sector, a million-dollar debenture would hardly raise an eyebrow. But it's different with local schools.
The question of equity immediately comes to mind.
While you can't buy a place at the prep school with a debenture, your child only needs to do one interview, rather than the customary three.
The school says the debenture scheme is oversubscribed and a lottery will decide who may buy one.
As a private school, it has every right to raise money to enhance old facilities and build new ones. The school says the debentures would pay for a four-storey building at the primary school and a fourth Primary One class.
There is a danger that this might spark a new trend among local schools. From past experience, we know multi-million-dollar debentures and high school fees have encouraged many international schools to make themselves available only to children of wealthy families and high net worth individuals. If more elite local private schools follow the example of St Stephen's, the local school sector would become like those international schools for the wealthy.
But education should be based on merit, an equalitarian system that helps the next generation to get ahead, regardless of whether a young child is from a poor or rich family.
At a time when Hong Kong has some of the highest income and social inequalities in the world, it would not bode well for the city's future if only the rich could attend the best schools while leaving children of poor families to the less desirable publicly funded or government schools.
While private schools have every right to raise necessary funds, we hope the latest St Stephen's debenture scheme would not become a new fundraising trend.