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  • Aug 28, 2014
  • Updated: 2:56pm
LifestyleFamily & Education

Parents are snubbing top-rated local Hong Kong schools

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 9:46am

Hong Kong has been judged to have one of the best education systems in the world. In international assessments, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment, our students come consistently near the top.

The city has even been praised as a model for others to learn from. The influential McKinsey study, "How the World's Most Improved Systems Keep Getting Better", flagged Hong Kong as a "sustained improver" that had moved from "good" to "great".

But at home the middle-class elite have shown what they think by voting with their feet, moving away from local schools.

Recent Education Bureau data speaks for itself. International school places increased by 59 per cent, from 30,982 in 2001-02 to 49,183 in 2011-12. These include English Schools Foundation, private international schools and Private Independent Schools that offer international curricula.

In its analysis of growing demand for international schooling, the McKinsey study noted the increasing desire for non-local curricula from local parents. The proportion of local students taking up those places had increased from around 11 per cent in 2001-02 to 26 per cent on the primary level, and 23 per cent on the secondary level.

With local families defined as those not holding any overseas passport (excluding a British National Overseas document), the numbers are likely to be much higher. The minimum figure is around 12,000 children, but it could be at least double that if those with foreign passports are included. Those who are better off are sending their children overseas - more than 5,700 Hong Kong children are studying in British boarding schools.

Parents are keen to ensure their children are well-placed to secure the best careers, so they are willing to pay for that education

This growth in international education has happened even as the number of school-aged children has plummeted over the past 10-plus years, and is reflected in a 23 per cent decline in the number of public funded and other aided schools since 2000.

The government has responded by turning over redundant campuses to international school operators seeking to expand. Three sites were allocated in April, and a fourth is pending.

And still the supply of international school places cannot meet demand.

But with local schools so highly praised, why are parents unhappy with them? A key reason is that however good the schools are, competition remains fierce to get into so-called Band One English-medium schools and the more prestigious Direct Subsidy Scheme schools. Together, these are the schools regarded as most likely to lead to good public exam results and a place at a high-ranking university.

Parents are keen to ensure their children are well-placed to secure the best careers, so they are willing to pay for that education. With couples having fewer children, they are more able to make the investment.

The ESF's report on the higher education destinations of students graduating last year shows that 91 per cent went on to university and 16 per cent won places in the world's top 30 institutions in the Times Higher Education's global league table.

This compares with a 31 per cent success rate for those completing the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education - with 23 per cent securing local degree places, and around 8 per cent leaving Hong Kong.

The challenge for policymakers is to ensure those who can't afford to pay for this advantage don't lose out.

Katherine Forestier is the director of the consultancy Education Link.



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How the bloody hell is an educational system heralded as "one of the best educational systems in the world" in a city with the highest GINI Coefficient among OECD nations? Does the writer of this silly piece not see the glaring contradiction? Does the writer really really not see that the school system is a shambles and barely able to prepare half its students for the demands of the modern economy. Among the other half who do manage to get by, many aspire and actually _do_ set sail for overseas institutions to complete their educations. So what is so fine about the system that is so hopelessly inadequate that it cannot lift people out of poverty in Hong Kong?
Modern "journalism" at its absolute finest. Pure tripe.
I disagree with the blank statement that local education parents prefer their children in an International (IS) or ESF school. My children who were educated locally and finished in top boarding schools in UK and the very best Universities have returned so that their children can get Chinese (Cantonese and Putonghua) education. They are just an example of the reverse process due to education concerns.
Many children have a nightmare learning and doing well in the Chinese language even as a subject, and worse in Chinese History which is badly taught. An IS or ESF is the soft option for these kids and heaven for the parents.
The good all-rounders will get into a top Anglo-Chinese DSS or local funded school of various types in any case.
But there are DSS doing badly - one famous mid-levels English medium local DSS School which produced the Legco President and the Minister for Home Affairs is getting fewer applicants than places available and scrounges around for students. These types of schools will drive applicants to IS and ESF outlets.
I am surprised by this report that HK's education system is actually celebrated somewhere in the world. As a teacher at an international school in Hong Kong who has lived here my whole life, I know for a fact that every single ONE of my local friends would want to be able to put their child into an international school if they could afford it. Why? Because of the educational philosophy...our goal is to build a desire for lifelong learning so our kids are eager to come to school because we make our education appealing by making it engaging. We don't put any pressures such as examinations on young children who are just starting school! What a cruel thing to do. We assess performance and understanding through various assessment tools that are FAR more accurate then a one time exam given to a child (ours even include performance assessments or oral assessments). What are you testing? How well they can memorise facts? Until the HK government catches up with the rest of the world in terms of early childhood education, the "local" population will continue to want to send their children to international schools. That's the reality here. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment view of HK's education "quality" is completely contradictory to what I see and hear about HK pubic schools every day.
OECD's assessment is only based on marks achieved in examination rather than education. I was a Science lecturer in overseas University and noticed that HK students were great in memorizing course materials but weak in applying knowledge in problem solving.
Contrast to a complicated web of how schools are financially supported in Hong Kong – with better budget for better teaching staff, the city’s local education system still simply runs on elitism education. After merely six years of primary schooling, a child’s lifetime future is then mostly destined by the grading of the school accepted for further schooling. One would end up in one of the three bandings (five in the past) that graded by reputation and achievements in ever furthering higher education. No parent in Hong Kong is willing to disband the banding system. All parents would hold high hope that their child would score successfully and be chosen by an elite school. When reality is contrary to their hope, the rich would just turn to non-local expansive schools or even studying abroad. For the less means, just feeling regret and accept band two and three schools. When it happens it is too late to ask for a fairer education system for their children to benefit. The government just looks the other way when there is no calling for abolishing the bandings. To Hong Kong’s parents, banding is good until is not. But too late for a child. Any criticism of Hong Kong education system would surely invite ridicule or be ignored totally from the locals -- don't rock the boat.
Competition is a real but incomplete explanation for why most parents fear top-rated local schools
Top students are few while most are inferior and mediocre
The "success" of esf is due to its production of mass delusion
that makes mediocre students appear outstanding
Just like the mass appeal of A (Greenspan and Rand) pre 2008
Meritocracy is corrupted by miscalibrated standards
As mediocre leaders "lead", and they submit to the mass appeal of market democracy
the world is turned upside down


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