Much work needed to bridge education gap
As ESF fees rise, a fairer system is needed to ensure parents can afford schools that best cater to the needs of their children
The transformation of an institution that aimed to provide an affordable English-language education into the core of an elitist international school sector is really beginning to bite in the pocket. The English Schools Foundation had already become an increasingly inaccessible bridge over a widening income gap for many aspirational parents. Now the incremental withdrawal of an annual HK$283 million government subsidy over 13 years is turning it into a reflection of the gap. Increasing numbers will be unable to afford a 50-year-old school system coveted by many local parents .
The second increment of the subsidy cuts has resulted in Year Two fees in the ESF’s primary schools rising by 27.5 per cent or HK$23,000 to HK$106,500, with HK$17,300 of the rise due to the subsidy cut and the remainder to inflation-linked rises across all years.
Unfortunately, the subvention for a system that originally catered for the children of expatriate civil servants was unsustainable under the government’s policy of not subsidising schools that run a mainly non-local curriculum. Demand for ESF places, however, still exceeds supply. That suggests they remain affordable for many, or that many local parents dissatisfied with the government education system are willing to make sacrifices for an international education in English.
Such fees are plainly not easily affordable to many middle-class families. Sadly there is little debate, in the context of Hong Kong’s competitiveness as an international city, about the case for supporting education for non-Chinese-speaking children of resident families or local families who choose to educate their children in English. It is not the black-and-white issue that it is painted.
The government contributes much more per pupil to schools in the Direct Subsidy Scheme, which provides a more affordable English language education for local parents. It remains arguable that it could have been the foundation of a fairer and more sensible system to make the ESF more accessible to local families while giving DSS schools more curriculum freedom to compete. Unless it is addressed, the inequity will do nothing to reduce the education gap between rich and poor families or improve social mobility.