A missed opportunity for fairer and affordable English-language schooling
A group of parents has received the bad news a year in advance of when their children start school. Parents of Year One students at the English Schools Foundation next September will have to pay 22 per cent more as the government starts to phase out its annual HK$283 million subsidy.
This marks the first down payment for the transition of an almost 50-year-old Hong Kong educational institution coveted by many local parents into elitist international schools that increasing numbers will struggle to afford.
The school is trying to soften the blow of the loss of the subsidy with a capital levy, sales of debentures and nomination rights, and fundraising.
But parents at the ESF's 20 schools and kindergartens face a rise of 22 per cent for new students from 2016-17, from HK$78,700 to HK$95,700. Current ESF parents face a fee increase for this school year of a hefty 8.8 per cent.
Parents of new students have had plenty of warning there would be a steep increase. But lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok said it would deprive middle-class families of affordable education.
However, the subvention was unsustainable, given the government's policy of not providing recurrent subsidies to schools that run a mainly non-local curriculum.
That said, the government has missed an opportunity for some thinking out of the box to lay the foundations of a fairer, affordable English-language education for expatriates and aspirational local families that are not well served by local schools. The government contributes more per pupil in support of schools in the Direct Subsidy Scheme, which provides affordable English-language education for local parents, than to the ESF.
Investment in more access to ESF schools for local families and more curriculum freedom for DSS schools would advance the ideal of a diverse education system that best serves Hong Kong's competitiveness as an international city.