International schools in Hong Kong

Elsa High School in global lease tussle

Elsa High is bidding to renew its lease but faces rival challenges from around the world

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2012, 6:37am

At Elsa High School in Shau Kei Wan, classes are no bigger than 20. Some lessons are taught to only three pupils.

"Everybody pretty much knows each other," said 11-year-old Benjamin Fischer, a Form Six pupil born in Israel.

The Jewish school in Shau Kei Wan Road has only 73 students, an enviable situation in a city where land is so scarce. But it is also facing an uncertain future as its five-year lease is due to expire in 2014. The site is now open to public bids.

The private independent school may also face pressure from growing demands for international places, forcing it to expand its student population in line with the standard 24 pupils per class stipulated by the Education Bureau.

Elsa High School principal Rachel Friedmann said the school would be bidding for the premises and had "no plan B".

However, it is understood that the site has attracted interest from school operators worldwide and may face a bidding war.

Elsa High's sponsors, together with Kellett International School - which is currently sharing the campus until its new Kowloon Bay site is ready - spent HK$60 million on renovations in 2009.

While Elsa High School is "excited" by the opportunity to bid for the permanent grant of the Shau Kei Wan campus, it has no plans to increase its class sizes above 18 to 20 pupils per class, Friedmann said. She said more than that "would not be optimal for modern learning".

The principal added that Elsa High School is among the few Jewish schools in East Asia. "We get inquiries from Guangzhou and many parts of the region. There is a demand for international places and there is a demand for Jewish high school places," she said.

The site as well as some vacant school premises are believed to have been shown to school operators from around the world as part of a tour organised by the Education Bureau.

A source said the tours attracted "good feedback" from new and existing international operators in Hong Kong - from Britain, France and the Middle East.

In Hong Kong, non-profit educational organisations enjoy benefits in land rent and loans for construction of facilities.

Friedmann said that Elsa High, sponsored by the Carmel School Association - which also operates two schools for younger children in the city, in Robinson Road and Borrett Road - can play a big part in the integration of the Jewish community in Hong Kong.

The Carmel schools offer a "trilingual" curriculum, with Hebrew, English and Putonghua spoken.