My Take

You can’t blame Wah Yan for wanting to stay elite

Government-aided school has made a U-turn and decided to join the direct subsidy scheme, allowing it to enrol the best and brightest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 1:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 April, 2017, 1:53am

Poor Wah Yan College. The long-time government-aided school is drawing flak for deciding to switch to direct subsidy, the funding method of choice for elite schools since Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Basically, everyone is doing it, so why can’t this Jesuit secondary school in Wan Chai do it, too?

Let me declare a personal interest. I went to the school in the 1970s. I doubt anyone there would remember me, as I was at the bottom of my class, so any elite school worthy of the name would have preferred to forget such a disgraceful pupil.

But I digress. The real issue, it seems, is not that the school is making the switch, but that it has taken so long to do so.

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Father Alfred Deignan, the former head of both Wah Yan colleges on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon, had, for a long time, argued the school should serve the children of both rich and poor families, and switching to direct subsidy would result in higher fees. He has now switched sides, though it must be said that despite the school’s history, the Jesuit influence is minimal these days.

Hong Kong’s first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, made a valiant effort with school reform to introduce egalitarianism into the system. He wanted children to attend schools in their own districts and “through-train” acceptance of graduates of primary schools to their sister secondary schools. He failed spectacularly.

Everyone – teachers, school heads and parents – hated it because it forced the top schools to accept bad students like me. So when the next regime of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung – both incidentally Wan Yan graduates – took over, they allowed so-called elite schools – those with the reputation and resources – to opt out of mandatory student intake by switching to direct subsidy.

The result was predictable – every school that could do it wanted the privilege. This, of course, doesn’t do much for class and income inequalities in Hong Kong.

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As an aided secondary school, Wan Yan has had to accept a majority of the graduates of its sister primary school, which, truth be told, has not been producing too many top-tier students. As a direct-subsidy school, it would have a greater say in accepting students with high scores.

It wants to stay elite. Who can blame it?