International and local English-language schools are filled with the children of local families dissatisfied with the public system, lawmakers heard yesterday.
Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said the picture painted of the local system by a number of business chambers and international schools was humiliating. She said the government must act or the city's competitive edge might be jeopardised.
David O'Rear, chief economist of the General Chamber of Commerce, told the Legislative Council's education panel that even if there were more international school places available, local families would snap them up because the local system was not providing the quality of education they demanded. He said that from an economist's viewpoint, the problem of the lack of international school places would not be solved until local schools improved.
His comments were echoed by representatives of the Japanese School (HKJS), Kiangsu & Chekiang Primary School and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. They said local schools failed to give priority to areas such as improving English proficiency and sports.
The representatives of HKJS and Kiangsu & Chekiang said the local system could improve by providing more after-class activities and asking pupils to do less homework. Kashimura Fujio of HKJS said they could also provide better access to foreign students. He said that in Japan, many children of expatriate families in Tokyo went to local schools.
There have been numerous appeals for the government to create more places at international schools after reports of record waiting lists.
The government said that to ease the shortage now, two disused school premises, in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, would soon be allocated for existing schools to expand.
Undersecretary for Education Kenneth Chen Wei-on said that the issue of international school places was complex and changed every year because expatriates frequently move to and from the city.
Legislator Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said that with the acute shortage and the changing market, the government should set up a high-level committee to monitor the situation.
The lawmaker for the education sector, Cheung Man-kwong, said the government should consider limiting the number of places for local pupils at international schools to free space for foreign students.
The government recently limited the number of local pupils at new international schools to 30 per cent. The ratio for existing schools is 50 per cent. It has reiterated that 5,000 school places would be made available in the next few years.
However, Tsuen Wan district councillor Justin Tseng Wen-tien said the increase in school places was much slower than overseas.
'In many countries, the increase of school places is nearly 10 per cent every year,' he said.
The government said there were 37,000 international school places as of September last year with some 33,000 students enrolled.
Approximate percentage of pupil places currently filled at international schools