English, like Chinese, is an official language of Hong Kong, so logic would say that it is available as a medium of education on the same terms. The Basic Law infers that in Article 9, while Chapter 5 of the Official Languages Ordinance presumably backs it with legislation. Reality is otherwise, though, with decades of policies that have chopped and changed from one to the other or settled for an either-or approach. The lack of a genuine government commitment has created a situation where parents wanting their children taught in English at a decent standard have to pay a premium - one that because of demand is ever-rising. That is not what we should expect. English is the language of business and Hong Kong, a regional financial centre, should have its house in order in that regard. Globally, it is also the lingua franca of science - authorities want our city to be a hub for scientific and technological excellence and innovation. If we want to become a leader in education, medical tourism, the arts and a host of other fields, it is essential that we can speak and write it fluently. For that to happen, an affordable English-medium education has to be available to all children, regardless of their background. Given Hong Kong's circumstances - there are not enough proficient teachers available - a major investment would be necessary. There would have to be substantial government subsidies. The hefty costs would cut deeply into public finances. Authorities are well aware of this - and, consequently, have done their best to avoid the matter. In 1998, they ordered all but a handful of selected public high schools to switch the medium of instruction from English to Chinese. Pressure from parents forced a significant relaxing of that policy this year, with about half of secondary schools now looking to teach entirely or mainly in English. Whether that can be done properly is a matter of time and cost, but it will only be of worth if extended to the entire education system. It also has to be about choice. Not all parents favour English as the medium of education. There are those who believe we should be looking more to Putonghua than English. Without doubt, Chinese fluency has to be the goal, but it is also clear that vast benefits are to be gained from educating in our other official language. Of course, there are those who do not have a choice. Children not born into, or from an early age not exposed to, Chinese culture struggle with the written and spoken language. There are four school options for them - English Schools Foundation, international, private independent and Direct Subsidy Scheme. Each comes at a price. With demand so strong and long waiting lists, the fees are inevitably rising and for some parents, financially debilitating. ESF's decision to go ahead with fee rises of up to 5.3 per cent and a HK$25,000 refundable levy have caused understandable concern. That is not what people with families thinking of moving here for work would expect. Anecdotal evidence abounds of highly qualified potential employees being scared off by a shortage of places, and fees considered excessive. It is a prospect foreign residents, buffeted by inflation driven by high property prices, also face. The toing and froing on English has served Hong Kong poorly. Opportunities have been lost to regional rivals. Our children have not been equipped to enter the workforce as best they could or should. Our government has a duty to ensure that all children have a chance for an English or bilingual education. The obligations involved mean that it is a matter we urgently need to have a real debate about.