Poor students can also benefit from the DSS system
For all the talk about the rising number of schools joining the Direct Subsidy Scheme triggered in the summer by the elite St Stephen's Girls' College's plan to adopt it, neither supporters nor opponents of the move can claim majority support.
On face of it, college alumni and others who petitioned legislators against the plan seem to have won. Last month, the college shelved its application to join the scheme on the recommendation of a special task force set up to study the divisive issue.
However, its council has askedthe task force to come up with a series of measures for the college's sustainable development. A report from the task force is due by October 29.
Those eager to maintain the school's public status may breathe a sigh of relief. But the shelving of this plan does not mean that status quo will be maintained.
The school seeks to enhance its quality of education as a necessary move in rapidly changing times. That means designing more personalised teaching approaches and programmes that best suit the needs of students.
Educators say the limited resources available to a public school, and other bureaucratic constraints, make innovation difficult.
A commentary in the Kung Kao Pao, the Catholic Diocese's newspaper, was conciliatory, saying that going the Direct Subsidy Scheme route has nothing to do with a school's educational ideals.
Despite the backtracking of St Stephen's Girls' College, the allure of DSS schools remains strong. A growing number of middle-class families in Hong Kong have increased aspirations for their children, and are unlikely to settle for the large classes, relatively rigid curriculums and stressed-out teachers that have come to define public sector education.
Why should they, if they have the resources? Parents' aspirations are often ignored by opponents of the scheme amid claims that exacerbates social inequality. The huge demand for better choices was evidenced by the large turnouts this month at the primary admission talks held at two DSS schools - Diocesan Boys' College primary division and St Paul's Co-educational College Primary School.
More than 2,000 parents showed up at each, when just about 150 P1 places were up for grabs at each school. As "through-train" schools, both allow their students to progress automatically to their secondary sections as long as they possess satisfactory academic results and conduct.
Opponents have criticised the hefty fees charged by schools like St Paul's Primary, where monthly tuition stands at HK$60,000 for the 2014-15 school year. Although there are offers ofscholarships and fee remissions, they argue that children from poor families would feel inferior studying in classes made up mostly of the rich and privileged. But one could also argue that studying in a resource-rich community opens doors.
And Direct Subsidy Scheme schools are not all elite. Terry Tsz Cho-ho, 17, who grew up in a public housing estate, is a recent beneficiary. He enrolled in HKFYG Lee Shau Kee College in Tin Shui Wai, which charges about HK$2,000 a month, after failing to enter an English-medium school six years ago.
He won scholarships three times to cover his tuition, and in this year's Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination, he obtained the top score of seven 5**.
He is now studying medicine at the University of Hong Kong.