ESF must provide local curriculum, Eddie Ng says
Foundation will not get funding if it does not provide HK diploma, minister tells lawmakers
The English Schools Foundation must introduce a local rather than international curriculum if it wants to keep its subvention, Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim told Legco yesterday.
Ng's statement was immediately rejected by ESF chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing, who said if the government insisted on withdrawing the foundation's subsidy it should not be done until all present students had passed through the school.
"Current parents must be protected and I know that Mr Ng also agrees on this," he said.
Tong also said the recent decision to introduce a HK$500,000 charge to reserve a school place was meant to raise funds for renovations and it would affect only a very small number of places.
In answer to a lawmaker's question, Ng told the Legislative Council yesterday the subvention would be phased out.
"We have informed the ESF that the existing recurrent subvention should be phased out gradually," he said.
"We will stick with the principle that if it doesn't provide a local curriculum, such as the Hong Kong Diploma for Secondary Education, the subvention model will change.
"It should consider how it can … provide services that fit the local needs in Hong Kong," he said of the schools, which cater for 13,000 children.
The statement raised concerns among parents and teachers, who are divided on whether the foundation should drop the subvention to keep its international curriculum or face an overhaul in order to keep its subsidy and avoid big fee rises.
Tong, who has advocated that the ESF subvention be on par with that given to Direct Subsidy Schools, said the foundation could not sacrifice providing an international curriculum.
He said the government had told him it was considering phasing out the subvention over the next 13 years. But he said no agreement had been reached and parents would be consulted before key decisions were made.
The ESF is the largest English-language curriculum provider in Hong Kong and receives a long-frozen subvention of HK$283 million a year.
Last year, former education secretary Michael Suen Ming-yeung described the school system, which was established in 1967, as a legacy of the colonial era and that funding should ultimately be phased out.
But talks between the foundation and the government have failed to reach an agreement.
The ESF has experienced increasing demand in recent years in light of a shortage of international school places for expatriates, with thousands of pupils on waiting lists.
Concerned parent Hans Ladegaard said it was a sensible proposal for ESF to offer a local curriculum because it received government funding.
But he said if the curriculum was changed, the issue of a waiting list for its international curriculum may also be exacerbated as many parents wanted one.
An ESF teacher, Davies Lesley, said the ESF should not stop providing an international curriculum. "The philosophy of the school has always been international," she said.
Correction: An early version of this story incorrectly quoted teacher Davies Lesley as saying the ESF should stop providing an international curriculum.