Direct Subsidy Scheme hurts poor pupils

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 August, 2013, 3:51am

Over the past decade, a number of aided and government schools have joined the Direct Subsidy Scheme.

With a view to having more independence regarding admissions and being able to operate with greater autonomy, many schools made the switch to the scheme. Thanks to the steep tuition fees they can charge within the scheme, these schools can obtain extra resources and, as a consequence, enhance the quality of their teaching.

I agree with those who argue that by joining this scheme, the standard of teaching can be raised. However, we should not neglect the downside and the fact that potentially, when a school switches to the scheme, it can have a detrimental effect on society. It is obvious that the scheme is a violation of equal education opportunities.

Education is supposed to be accessible to people from all walks of life and everybody deserves a chance to study in a learning environment where there is a level playing field. Under the scheme, the school admission process is unequal.

Despite the generous scholarships and subsidies that are offered by such schools, there is no doubt that the tuition fees contribute to an unhealthy phenomenon - creating a fine line, which differentiates between the "upper class" and "lower class". Students from lower-income families stand a smaller chance of getting into a Direct Subsidy Scheme school with an outstanding academic record than children from a privileged background because of the fees charged. This means that the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens.

This also puts obstacles in the way of future social mobility for poorer students.

As the saying goes, "Knowledge changes fate". But the opportunities for grass-roots students to change their fate become more limited if it becomes more difficult for them to receive a good-quality education. Under the principle of equal education opportunities, students should be selected by a school, based on their academic results rather than their family background.

Underprivileged students who are able to go to a good school can then win a place at a university and this improves their prospects of upward social mobility. However, it is more difficult to achieve that self-improvement if they cannot get into one of Hong Kong's elite schools.

A fair and equal education system is of paramount importance for the healthy development of our society. I hope government officials will take note of the problems associated with the Direct Subsidy Scheme and the needs of the next generation when formulating education policies.

Virginia Chan Wing-yan, Tseung Kwan O