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English Schools Foundation

The English Schools Foundation (ESF) operates five secondary schools, nine primary schools and a school for students with special educational needs across Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. It is the largest international educational foundation in Asia. 

NewsHong Kong

ESF should boost Putonghua lessons, says departing chief executive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 8:49am


  • Yes: 70%
  • No: 30%
19 Jun 2013
  • Yes
  • No
Total number of votes recorded: 269

Departing English Schools Foundation chief executive Heather Du Quesnay is encouraging her successor to consider developing a stronger Chinese curriculum.

Du Quesnay, who ends her term in July after eight years, said that by 2047, when the 50-year handover transition period ends, ESF students will need Putonghua at a high standard to make a living in Hong Kong.

She said the foundation needed to constantly review its Chinese curriculum to make it better. "I feel very strongly about the position of Chinese within the curriculum of our schools," she said. "We must make sure that we're keeping Chinese right at the centre of our curriculum and raising standards in Chinese."

The ESF offers one Chinese class a day for primary school pupils and two hours of Chinese teaching a week for secondary school pupils, taught in Putonghua using simplified characters. Du Quesnay made her comments at a time when the ESF faces the loss of its long-frozen HK$283 million annual government subsidy in stages from August 2016, creating a challenge for her successor, veteran British educator Belinda Greer.

Du Quesnay is confident the ESF's 20 schools and kindergartens will not lose their competitiveness because even with increases, the fees will still be reasonable compared with most international schools.

"The primary fees will still be less than three-quarters of the international schools that we look at," she said. "The secondary schools will be in about the middle of the range. For the sort of results that we are producing, I think it's good value for money and I believe that parents will think that too."

Parents of children starting Year 1 at ESF schools in 2016 are likely to face a one-off 23 per cent tuition fee increase, and the fees thereafter will fluctuate every year, according to factors such as inflation.

Du Quesnay said the government's decision would not affect the ESF's operations because the fee rise would make up for the loss of the subsidy. But she admitted that some parents might not be able to afford the increase and "have no choice but to look for other schools".

She suggested that those parents take the time now to prepare their children for direct subsidy schools, which offer "a very high standard of education" but require children to have good Cantonese as well as English.

"We regret that the government is determined to take the subvention [subsidy] away, but we are pleased that they're giving a three-year lead time. It does give parents time to plan."

The ESF board is reviewing a proposal to allow a handful of companies to buy priority placement, or nomination rights, at its schools for their employees' children, Du Quesnay said. She would not reveal details but said it would be a small number of "very high-cost opportunities". The money would be used for capital spending such as renewing and expanding schools.


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Hate to disagree with you BUT Cantonese is a DIALECT NOT language. It is certainly not recognized as one of the Chinese languages by China. It is considered a DIALECT just like Hokkien (Fujian dialect), Hakka, Teochew, Shanghainese (Shanghai hua), Beijing hua and many others spoken in the huge country. Cantonese is useful in HK and Guangdong Province, total population 70 million, but of not much use in the other parts of China where the rest of the 1.3 billion people live and certainly not in arch rival city Shanghai which is certainly set to dim the bright lights of HK in the future.
Like I said before -- COME OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE. Live in the real world and not your HK cocoon. The Chinese government does not recognize Cantonese as a language. It is always described as a dialect similar to Fujian or Shanghainese (Shanghai dialect), Hakka, Teochew and many others that are spoken in China. Cantonese has never been called as one of the languages of China of which little HK is a part. Foreigners learning Chinese in order to live and/or work in China learn Mandarin NOT Cantonese. Speaking Cantonese only opens the door to 70 million people living in Guangdong (including HK and Macau). But speaking Mandarin opens the door to the whole of China including Taiwan where they speak the Hokkien (Fujian) dialect and the other 1.3 billion population as well as thousands of Chinese living in other countries. Cantonese is useful in HK but since its return to China many HK people, especially in retail and hospitality sectors are learning Mandarin or Putonghua as it called in the SAR to deal wiith the vast majority of Chinese from the mainland who do not speak Cantonese. I don't see the reverse on the mainland where Chinese are leanring Cantonese to deal with HK people. You want to pitch Cantonese against Mandarin? Be REALSITIC.
Communication in Cantonese can be easily carried out in these easy to learn phrases: "delay macho hey" or "delay no more".
For other delightful phrases why not enrol your spawn in the nearby fully subsidized mother tongue teaching school.
Communication in Cantonese can be easily carried out in these easy to learn phrases: "delay macho hey" or "delay no more".
For more comprehensive phrases why not enrol your spawn in the nearby fully subsidized mother tongue teaching school.
That is the option I chose and it is a valid option. But while the ESF is still receiving public funding I disagree that it should give Putonghua priority over Cantonese.
I'm sure you know more than the scholars about the status of Cantonese.
Even a simple teach yourself Cantonese book explains why Cantonese is a language and not a dialect. Maybe you can describe the charateristics of a language and dialect to me in 1500 characters. I can rewrite my dissertation based on your theories. Please include an APA bibliographical reference so that I can clearly reference who is critiquing the other scholars.
That's like Christians saying the Bible said Christianity is the real, true religion, so all those stories about an imaginary old man in the sky creating everything in the universe must be true. Just because some wacko wrote down their fallacy on paper doesn't necessarily make it true.
In science there are fixed criteria to describe things and to analyze data. This is not something that some wacko dreamed up and submitted to a linguistics journal.
Why not enlighten us with one or two of those criteria?
Even in hard sciences it's sometimes unavoidable for subjective opinion to slip in and results can be interpreted differently based on one's background. I won't be surprised if it's even easier for something like linguistics.
Totally disagree with teaching our children in Putonghua medium verses Cantonese. This is Hong Kong, the Cantonese language is an integral part of the culture of Hong Kong. In Guangdong the government tried to change TV programing from Cantonese to Putonghau during the Asian Games a few years ago and backed down after the public displayed outrage. After having had lived in China for 12 years the one thing I learned is that very few people use Putonghua to speak to friends from their hometown, most prefer their local dialect/language.
I agree that the desire to learn a language is based mostly on economic reasons, why are so many people struggling with English? Cantonese is definitely the most economically powerful Chinese LANGUAGE, yes language not a dialect.
If these families intend to remain in Hong Kong over the long term the best advantage they could give their child would be to give them a solid foundation in Cantonese, spoken and written traditional characters. That will open doors for anyone who intends to stay in Hong Kong. A Putonghua lesson a couple of times a week, using traditional characters, which the mainlanders can usually read but not necessarily write would be acceptable.
In other words, you want to do everything EXACTLY the opposite of what the mainlanders do. If all the mainlanders wore white socks you would've wanted all HK'ers to wear black socks just to be different. Way to go in creating divisions among Chinese.
China is so huge that different regions have their own different cultures, which is normal for any large country. And HK culture is part of that big collection. In order for effective communication, everyone in the country need to speak a common language/dialect (whatever you wanna call it). That's why all the different racial groups in the US speak English, or why all the different ethnic groups in Russia speak Russian. You wanna talk about economic reasons, having a common language that everyone can understand and communicate with is the key economic benefit.
So Du Quesnay is finaly going after 8 years having completely failed in her main objective -to get the annual government subsidy renewed. As an International school for local cantonese children who don't want to cope with the local schools, I agree it should strengthen its Putonghua - but never understood why it didn't teach cantonese to expat children - at least they would be able to understand Hong Kong a little better!
To ssslmcs01,
Be REALSITIC! Firstly, Cantonese is NOT a language!! It's a DIALECT. Same with Shanghai hua and Zhejiang hua. What is HK compared to the size and might of China? Putonghua is the language spoken by the Chinese on the mainland for business, official dealings and government business as well as by Chinese from different provinces so that they understand each other. Even foreigners learning Mandarin in their own countries learn it in the simplified method and the mainland uses simplified Chinese. Even the bosses and people with economic clout -- in his/her words -- speak Cantonese. But don't forget they are Guangdong residents and they also speak Putonghua and when they speak and deal with leaders and business clients they speak Putonghua NOT Cantonese. Even your Chief Exec and senior HK officials have to use Putonghua in their interaction with Chinese officialdom because you are part of China. Imagine gong to other parts of the mainland and you use Cantonese. That's stupid and shortsighted. Cantonese is useless in these situations. Putonghua is the language of necessity. COME OFF YOUR IVORY TOWER AND BE REALSTIC. In the bigger sphere of things and the BIG picture, Cantonese is USELESS. You need Putonghua. That's the reality.
As someone who has lived and worked in both countries and learned both LANGUAGES, my conclusion is that if you live in Hong Kong you need to speak Cantonese,so I never understood why ESF didn't at least offer Cantonese to expat children. Only by practice can children improve their langauge skills and in Hong Kong you can practive Cantonese every day. I do understand that Cantonese is difficult for Mainland Chinese to speak and read, hence their frustration!
I agree completely with cal10ten. But, I also say let the Hong Kongers who insist on learning Cantonese (and not Putonghua) continue with their stubbornness. It is their children who will pay the price when they enter the workforce (or cannot enter the workforce) 20 years from now. In addition to Putonghua being spoken in China, it is also spoken in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia...Heck, even the Koreans who are learning Chinese, are learning it in the form of Putonghua, not Cantonese.
I agree with Sugelanren, if students are taught Cantonese they can practice it every day, more of them will become proficient in the language. Putonghua would be useful if you planned a trip to norhern China.
To Greenwash:
I'm a parent and I wouldn't support Putonghua teaching. Maybe a Putonghua lesson twice a week. I would support 1/3 of each day being taught in Cantonese.
Yes, why didn't Ms. Du Quesnay improve Chinese teaching in the ESF schools during her tenure? It has been obvious since the handover at least that the ESF needed to adopt a strong Chinese (putonghua) curriculum. At least 1/3 of each day could be taught in Putonghua - parents would support it.
She did. You obviously know nothing about the ESF!!
The quality of Chinese teaching in ESF presently is a joke. Heather Du Quesnay can take credit for this.
My question to the ESF is, why Putonghua over Cantonese?
Learning a second or foreign language should be done with a clear objective in mind not for the sake of being a filler to waste valuable class time. I have studied linguistics at the masters level and after reviewing a great deal of research on language it became clear that languages become, as much as I hate to use the word "important to learn", for reasons such as economic and because of science. English has been lucky enough to hold clout in both of these areas. As far as Chinese languages go Cantonese is still by far the most economically powerful language in China. With 70000000 Cantonese speakers in Guangdong and about 7000000 in Hong Kong running the economic engine of China, the Pearl River Delta. The bosses, the people with economic clout are Cantonese speakers not Putonghua. There are at least two other Chinese languages (some might say dialects) that are also more economically powerful than Putonghua, the languages of Zhejiang and Shanghaihua.
Looking ahead to 2047, they haven't considered the fact that 70% of Chinese, in China speak in a local language or dialect and not in Putonghua. Obviously the ESF has chosen to blindly follow a trend without doing it's homework.
And teaching Simplified Chinese Characters is teaching a meaningless writing system throwing culture out the window. What a waste!
keep burying your head in the sand if you want, but don't try to tell others how to do their business with your quibbles.


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