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International schools in Hong Kong

Nord Anglia international school row shows up Hong Kong’s bigoted politicians

Albert Cheng sees political bigotry taken to new heights as councillors of all stripes oppose the setting up of an international school campus in a Tin Wan shopping mall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 June, 2017, 7:14pm

Rivals from across the political spectrum have united in an effort to block an international school from having a new campus at a shopping mall in Tin Wan, west of Aberdeen in Southern district.

In the past, politicians have objected to community facilities on various grounds; others have blocked projects seen to undermine the value of their properties. The long list of necessary but unwelcome amenities includes a clinic for AIDS patients, a halfway house for the mentally ill, columbariums, landfills, an incinerator, and a mosque in the New Territories.

The not-in-my-backyard mentality is widespread. However, the level of political bigotry among local councillors has recently been taken to new heights.

A case in point is Nord Anglia Education’s plan to open an international school at the Tin Wan Shopping Centre, which is now being refurbished. The proposed campus would occupy 3½ storeys of the five-storey complex, which was taken over by a private developer from Link Reit in 2015.

International education is a growing global trend, and Asia leads the way

Two weeks ago, at a meeting of the Southern District Council’s committee for district development and housing, councillors of various political stripes sought to derail the plan.

The Democratic Party’s Chai Man-hon tabled a motion to object to the scheme. Not to be outshone, Chan Fu-ming of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong sponsored a proposal calling on the Education Bureau to reject the application. They are worried the school would worsen congestion and squeeze out shops more relevant to the daily lives of the public housing tenants.

Nord Anglia has pledged to impose strict measures to prevent jams [and is] prepared to actively integrate itself into the local community

But the politicians should have targeted the Link instead. It was the Link that took over shopping malls in public housing estates from the government in the first place, and its policy to maximise revenue has resulted in complaints from the tenants that their needs are being neglected.

The new owner’s strategy is to have a school as an anchor tenant. The remaining 12 shops would include a bank, barber, bakery, fast-food restaurant and supermarket, in a new mix aimed to generate a viable flow of people from within and outside the locality.

Meanwhile, Nord Anglia has pledged to impose strict measures to prevent jams. The school is also prepared to actively integrate itself into the local community. As a sweetener, it has offered to open up its campus facilities after classes for residents’ groups from Tin Wan Estate. Perhaps it can also reserve some free places for children from local public housing.

There is such great demand from both local and expatriate families for quality kindergarten and elementary international schooling that the Tin Wan places have been quickly oversubscribed.

Nevertheless, because of the political hiccup, Nord Anglia is unlikely to open on schedule in September, and has already refunded frustrated parents.

One would expect our young breed of activists, baptised by Occupy Central, to be liberal minded and tolerant of different sectors’ sometimes conflicting social needs. That seems to be wishful thinking.

It hasn’t dawned on [Nathan Law] that adequate international school places is a critical factor for expatriates to consider moving to Hong Kong

Demosisto, a one-year-old political party of mostly student activists, has jumped on the bandwagon. Its chairman, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who represents the Hong Kong Island constituency in the legislature, was the first to put up banners opposing the school. He insists tenants in the public housing estate would not benefit from the “luxury international school”.

Ironically, Law tweeted on Tuesday to highlight a Forbes commentary headlined, “Singapore is beating Hong Kong as Asia’s best place to do business.”

Apparently, it hasn’t dawned on him that adequate international school places is a critical factor for expatriates to consider moving to Hong Kong for commerce and business.

Demosisto secretary general Joshua Wong Chi-fung crashed a district council meeting to press councillors to sign a placard on the spot to object to the international school.

He is eyeing the Island constituency at the next Legislative Council election. Tin Wan is supposed to be his launch pad. The good of the wider community is simply not on his radar.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]