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.