The Supreme Court of India recently upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act that was passed in 2009, which requires both public and private schools to reserve 25per cent of places for children from low-income families.
Its 2-1 decision forces private schools, which make up some 19per cent of all schools in India and provide quality education to 27per cent of Indian students, to share the burden of educating underprivileged children.
The words of the dissenting judge, K.S.Radhakrishnan, could well be directed to Hong Kong's Education Bureau: 'The state ... cannot free itself from obligations ... by offloading or outsourcing its obligations to private state actors ... or to coerce them to act on the state's dictate.'
Little has been done to make local schools in Hong Kong inclusive. Subsidy policies continue to fragment the international school sector while students from the local community compete with immigrating students for places in international schools. And the needs of minority students are little understood. Education of a large segment of the Hong Kong society has, in fact, been outsourced to the international school sector.
Yet, in its quick reference for parents, the bureau states that, 'following the development of our pluralistic society, there is an increasing need to provide diversity in our educational system'. Thus, it says, Direct Subsidy Scheme schools were introduced to give parents more choices.
However, while noting that DSS schools constitute about 8per cent of total school places, the bureau says it forecasts no large increase in their proportion.
So if a large increase in DSS schools is not anticipated, how does the bureau plan on serving the needs of an increasingly pluralistic society? Which parents does this directive address? Does it serve to reassure local parents that there will be no influx of expatriate children inundating DSS schools?
As an educator of nearly three decades, I believe the problem lies not in the dedication of those involved but rather in the implementation of reforms to ensure their objectives are realised. The existing administrative machinery is inadequate in its leadership and monitoring responsibilities.
Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying's restructuring plan needs to accommodate priorities that will make the Hong Kong education system equitable for all stakeholders. Otherwise, a mandate enforcing a 25per cent reservation for non-Chinese students in local English-medium schools may be the only way.
Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at an international school in Hong Kong