Parents are up in arms about 500 young pupils at the elite Hong Kong International School being moved to a disused school inside a Chai Wan housing estate for three years while their lower primary school in Repulse Bay is redeveloped. 'Why should we pay the highest school fees in Hong Kong for a temporary, reconditioned school [which will expose children to] pollution, sub-standard facilities and overcrowding?' says an email circulating among parents. Near neighbours of the planned Repulse Bay redevelopment have different concerns, with one resident of South Bay Close complaining that since most pupils were chauffeured to and from school, the 18-storey redevelopment with quarters for 70 staff would result in uncontrollable traffic.
Many parents might think the temporary inconvenience, loss of amenity and discomfort a small price to pay for access to such a privileged education. It just goes to show that parents who can afford to pay so much money for their children's education have high expectations that go beyond the perceived educational value.
Parents should be prepared to accept a less appealing location until the school is ready. The row, though, reflects a broader problem - the lack of school places and difficulties in finding land to build more schools. This issue is of importance to Hong Kong's future as an international finance hub. To retain its competitive edge, the city has to attract skilled people from overseas. They will not come here unless their families' needs are catered for.
The English Schools Foundation and many international schools have long waiting lists. The government has been slow to respond. Surplus buildings have since been given to four international schools so that they can expand. Greenfield sites have been allocated to another four and temporary places handed to nine others. It is not clear whether this will meet expatriate and growing local demand. There has to be better planning in future or Hong Kong will lose out to rival cities in competition for talent.