• Fri
  • Nov 21, 2014
  • Updated: 12:44pm

ESF subsidy withdrawal shames SAR

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 June, 2013, 1:53am

With reference to Alex Lo's column ("A lesson in Machiavellian ruthlessness", June 8) it is refreshing to hear his support for middle-class English-speaking and taxpaying parents who will no longer receive any government support for English education.

I prefer to have my child educated in English. Of course, we are in Asia, and I expect that she learns and enjoys Cantonese and Putonghua as well.

However, I do not want her to be denied opportunities later because she is not proficient in English.

Further, as a child whose native tongue is English, my child will certainly struggle academically in a local school.

Ironically, the above statement is also being made by thousands of local parents, who are making it very clear that they are not satisfied with local schools, and also wish for an affordable English education.

The fact is that my child, though a category one applicant, with two English-speaking parents, was not able to find an English Schools Foundation place for Primary One last year, and is 200th on the waiting list.

This is testament to the huge demand for English education here, and an indictment of the Education Bureau for not foreseeing this problem.

I will leave judgment on the direction of the ESF over the past 10 years to others.

I am having trouble understanding how, having been a taxpayer in Hong Kong for 18 years, I will receive no help whatsoever from the government in the education of my child in one of the two official languages here.

There are now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of families in the same situation here. And then there are the tens of thousands of local parents who also cannot afford private schools and must accept an education system for their children that they evidently do not trust.

The education system here is increasingly becoming divided, and elitist, wherein only wealthy families have a real choice in education, and access to the better schools.

This is exactly the wrong approach in a society that is already struggling with inequality. It is appalling really, and a shame on Hong Kong.

Jeff Gagnon, Central


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I sympathise with Mr Gagnon's plight, but find his representation inaccurate.

Reading this letter, one would think the ESF is the only possible English-language education option in town. That is pertinently untrue. There are plenty of highly regarded English Medium of Instruction (EMI) schools under the fully-funded and DSS schemes where Mr Gagnon could send his daughter to without having to pay high fees or face long waiting lists.

The only thing he indeed can't get for his 18 years of <15% tax money is an English education. And by 'English' there I mean: 'of England,' not 'of the English language.' What sets the ESF apart from other EMI schools in Hong Kong, is the foundation's insistence on teaching mainly UK curriculum, refusing to adopt the Hong Kong curriculum (at least: preparing for Hong Kong exams). This is the prime reason they are losing their subsidy, not some malfeasance by the government.

As a long-term tax payer of Hong Kong, I am sure Mr Gagnon can appreciate that it would irresponsible for the government to finance schools that teach foreign curricula. If it did, we would soon be facing an out-of-control education budget with schools teaching French, American, Japanese, and most of all: mainland Chinese curricula all clamouring for subsidies.

I hope Mr Gagnon will address his next letter to the ESF and ask them to reconsider joining the DSS and adapt by teaching the HK curriculum, as that would indeed be in the best interest of all.
What about people with anti-colonial disease? The handover was 16 years ago, for goodness sake.
Over the last 5-10 years ESF has moved away from offering UK curriculum only. All ESF Primary schools now offer only the Primary Years Programme (PYP) - part of the International Baccalaureate (IB). The senior secondary sections of all ESF Secondary Schools teach the DP only (also IB). An increasing number of local DSS schools (EMI) are also offering the DP (on top of the HK curriculum) - these schools are heavily subsidized by the Government. So, in effect, the HK Government is subsidizing schools teaching other curricula.
That is absolutely true. But indeed, those schools are offering the IB curriculum on top of (or in parallel to) the HK exams . The most important requirement for schools to qualify for DSS money remains that they (primarily) prepare for HK exams. If they want to also offer an IB stream, they are free to do so. And many do. Great. The DSS is very accommodating of this.

The ESF refusal to step away from UK exam preparation is therefore even more baffling: the shift towards IB has made such a step much easier. It would be relatively simple for the ESF to convert some or all of its school to DSS schools. They only need to phase out the UK-exam streams, in favour of more IB and HK exams. Why do they resist this so stubbornly? A cynic might say they are after the -obviously big- money.

So yes, the HK EDB is thus subsidising IB teaching, but as the exception that confirms the rule of not subsidising other national curricula over which we don't, but foreign governments do have a say. The governing structure of the IB is complex, but balanced, and no other foreign educational power holds sway over it.

Do you know people in the UK who expect their government to finance schools that prepare pupils for, say, American or Chinese high school diplomas? And yes, I know the UK too subsidises state schools offering IB streams, and that is all good news. Yet, they don't subsidise pupils preparing for other countries' national exams either. No country does. Why should Hong Kong?
An MIT EE Ph.D. emailed me this apocryphal Chinese story just the other day.
30 students signed up for the "Wireless Power Transmission Systems" course offered by the Electrical Engineering department. The professor walked in on the first day and found only 15 students, all Chinese.
After the first lecture, he called up the registrar and inquired what happened to the other 15 -- why they withdrew before they even had a chance to size up the professor. The registrar said, "You may not believe it. Someone found out half the class will be Chinese. Words finally got around. Those decided to withdraw because they don't want to get Bs and Cs."
Do you think this is one of reasons why expat parents don't want their children to attend tough schools with a lot of competition, such as St. Joseph's College where I matriculated decades ago?
It's high time HK got rid off those with incurable colonial disease
it's high time someone initiated a Judicial Review of this decision where by DSS schools currently receive twice as much per student above ESF which will then lose its subvention soon. You cannot call the decision racist because there are so many local and Eurasian children in the ESF system already. Unfortunately HKG does not have the 'Sir Humphrey' civil service and instead has blinkered oafs that continue down a set line they foisted upon different indecisive overpaid department heads as being the correct way forward. The ESF is being forced from being a Not for Profit English language school with its own Ordinance set in law into becoming a For Profit International school in,, get this, 'Asia;s World City'..
Mr. Gagnon - Maybe it would be good for your daughter to struggle academically in a local school. The world is very competitive these days and the sooner one adapts to this, the better.
The ESF is a special case, and English is one of the official languages of Hong Kong, so it's fanciful to believe that if the subvention were to be continued it would lead to "an out-of-control education budget with schools teaching French, American, Japanese, and most of all: mainland Chinese curricula".
The Education Bureau decided long ago to abolish the subvention, and I'd be very surprised if it would be possible for the ESF to operate under the DSS scheme. The government wants more international school places, and driving the ESF into the private sector is consistent with that objective.
Yes, English is an official language of HK. So is Chinese. Hence we have many CMI and many EMI schools. And English is also an official language in the US, Australia, India, Ireland, etc etc. So accepting only English- or Chinese-speaking national exam curricula does not solve it. And the point remains: why subsidise other national curricula at par with our own?

Any school (or school-to-be) can apply for the DSS. The application forms are online. You and I can start a school tomorrow and apply, although I think it is likely we may quibble over management issues. That aside, If the ESF wanted to (and that would mean: give up UK exam preparation, and accept the minimum of EDB oversight that the DSS requires), they would have the DSS money in no-time. The negotiations the government has been patiently having with the ESF for 10 (!) years have been trying to achieve exactly that: a gradual transition of the ESF to the DSS (or at least to DSS-like conditions), perhaps even with some temporary or permanent policy sweeteners attached.

The ESF a special case? It has a unique history, and therefore it deserves a special way/period to adapt to new circumstances. But we have been trying that for >10 years now. There is no reason to treat the ESF schools differently from other schools in perpetuity. It would be also unfair to other (DSS or international) schools to do so by the way. Now the ESF has chosen to compete with Harrows & Co on equal footing. Let's see how it goes.



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