A Chinese University survey has confirmed what many have long noticed - middle-class parents have lost confidence in the SAR's school system and would rather send their children overseas or to local international schools. What has so far escaped serious attention is the researchers' warning that if that trend continues, local schools will become the 'second best' option for those who can afford to put their children in alternative systems, and that will be socially divisive. Before 1978, only 30 per cent of primary students could go on to receive a subsidised secondary education, and they had to take a competitive examination and fight for a place. The system was ruthless, but selection was completely based on academic merit. Regardless of their backgrounds, gifted children from poor families could get into the best schools and study alongside those who were equally bright but might have richer parents. Schools were a melting pot then. To a lesser extent, they still are today. But the sad fact is that many parents, who have risen from rags to riches because they were fortunate enough to have been educated at so-called elite schools, are finding that their alma mater is no longer providing a quality education for their children. They are pulling their children out because, with a few exceptions, the schools have failed to change with the times to impart knowledge in new ways and to equip students with skills needed in the modern world. In time, that must diminish the integrating function of the top local schools. The international schools may caution that they are not suitable for all local children. After all, they are not designed for second-language learners, and there is a vast difference in the needs of native and non-native speaking children. Nor is going to an overseas boarding school a suitable option for all. For some, it works; for others, living away from their parents when they are so young can be emotionally devastating. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is aware of the urgent need to reform our schools, a problem left over from the colonial administration. Unfortunately, while the lofty ideals of his reform blueprint raise little objection, it will take years before the changes bear fruit. And the clumsy way in which his Government managed the mother-tongue education policy - a main source of complaints among the middle class - and the benchmark test for English teachers have not helped to inspire confidence in the reforms. But reform we must, as the SAR's future rides on its success. For the long-term prosperity of Hong Kong, everyone must put aside his or her vested interest to ensure the majority of children whose only option is to study at local schools get a quality education.