Hong Kong is completing its academic structure reform with the launch of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination in March and a four-year university degree to commence in September.
Yet the impact of reform measures launched a decade ago is still being felt. Schools are continuing with efforts to instil more motivation and inspiration into students' lives, exposing them to a variety of topics and teaching styles.
But both students and teachers are experiencing heavy workloads as they grapple with more diversified learning styles and new content. Driving all this is the goal to nurture much-needed reflective, well-rounded and independent learners in today's world.
Indeed, the same goal is shared by local and international schools - although the level of resources with which each school is armed varies greatly. There are also differences in learning and teaching approaches.
As featured in this guide, more international and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools have adopted the International Baccalaureate programmes, challenging their students to understand more about local as well as global issues, and acquire broader, deeper knowledge. A key characteristic of the programmes is their inquiry-based approach to learning, which encourages students to ask meaningful questions, investigate and research, and discuss and debate with others.
School learning covers all sorts of skills, not just subject knowledge. Language skills have remained a key concern for parents and schools, a rising number of which are devoted to bilingualism training, particularly in Chinese and English. Demand for such training is likely to grow in the years to come.
Also in this issue, early childhood education experts share their views on the ideal preschool environment for children. The provision of services for children with special needs or exceptional intelligence is another area in perennial need of attention. There is undoubtedly ample room for expansion of such services.
Whatever the age of their target clientele, it is encouraging to see even greater diversity of schools, including DSS schools, whose number has risen to 85 from last year's 74. With more flexibility than government and aided schools in curriculum matters, they also present an option for expatriate families wanting an internationally-oriented curriculum for their children. The wide mix of nationalities at some DSS schools could make adaptation less of a problem for children coming from abroad. Among these schools, some have also taken action to facilitate students' assimilation into local school life.
Studying abroad is always an option for parents who prefer an escape from the high-pressure local system and wish to foster their child's personal independence. A leading destination of choice, Britain has seen an almost 18 per cent increase in the intake of Hong Kong students to British independent schools over the past four years. But parents are advised to pay site visits to a school, rather than relying on promotional materials, and to involve their children in the decision-making process. Also crucial, of course, is parents' readiness to pay the price of early separation from their child.
Quality education is not just a matter of mixing with the brightest minds, wherever they are. Resoundingly, educators note the importance of character development.
Apart from the important asset of communication skills, the cultivation of positive values, such as responsible citizenship, is already gaining greater attention in schools. It is never too early to inculcate a responsible attitude among today's young.
A host of considerations come to mind as one begins to search for the right school. We hope that this guide will help make the process easier, paving the way for a rewarding educational journey.