My Take

A quality education should be a right for all, not just a privilege for the rich

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 2:19am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 8:50am

The gradual privatisation of large swathes of our education system means many of the best schools in town are now out of reach of ordinary families.

Merit and ability are distant factors when it comes to admittance. Money is the best determinant when annual tuitions at many private and international schools reach about HK$200,000.

This does not count the heavy pressure on parents to buy million-dollar debentures and capital levy.

The city's education is increasingly being divided into two poles: one for the rich and the other for the rest. Those families who are well-to-do with high education aspirations for their children but without reliable means to pay for it are trapped. We may have the best education that money can buy. But what happens if most people can't afford it?

In reversing the laudable egalitarian school reform that the first chief executive Tung Chee-hwa had tried but failed to launch, the government has helped create one of the major sources of social inequalities for our next generation.

News that a majority of private and international schools are raising fees, some by as much as 30 per cent, is hardly surprising. Such schools no longer use inflation as an index reference.

All those schools will demand fees as high as parents can pay, with an Education Bureau that is terribly lenient in granting permission to hike fees. Soon they will be joined by schools under the English Schools Foundation as the government phases out subsidies. And there is no shortage of wealthy families, thanks to the property bubble and its asset inflation for flat owners and the influx of rich mainlanders into Hong Kong.

The government persists in its wrong-headed policy of encouraging the building of more international schools, with many being foreign brands, by generously granting prime sites for large campuses at nominal fees.

All that money, land and subsidies, whether direct or indirect, should be used to upgrade local subsidised, aided and public schools. Parents should be able to expect quality public education, free or subsidised, without having to risk bankruptcy to pay astronomical fees. It's time to recognise quality education as a right for all rather than a privilege of the rich.