Crazy elitism in Hong Kong schools has gone too far

Wah Yan College has become the latest school to have its bid to charge tuition rejected. It is good that another prestigious school will remain free for all

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 July, 2018, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 8:05am

The well-known Catholic boys’ school, Wah Yan College, has become the latest school to have a bid to charge pupils tuition rejected by the Education Bureau.

It’s certainly a good thing that another prestigious school will remain free for all, instead of joining the so-called Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) under which many elite schools are able to charge substantial fees in addition to receiving public subsidies.

Critics have argued that there are no clear criteria by which bureau officials accept or reject an application for the scheme. That’s hardly surprising, though in this case, I agree with the bureau’s decision.

Education officials like to pretend the DSS is a policy and that it offers educators and parents more choices. In reality, its expansion in recent years was sheer expediency, stemming from the dismal failure of education reforms under the first post-1997 administration of Tung Chee-hwa.

Catholic school’s bid to charge fees turned down amid fears it would become preserve of rich and famous

The tragic irony is that from a bungled if well-intended reform to achieve greater egalitarianism in public education, we now have an extreme elitism creeping into the whole system.

Tung wanted schools to teach in the mother tongue and pupils to attend the schools in their own neighbourhoods. That was, of course, a no-no. Parents wanted their children to attend elite schools and be taught in English, even if it meant long travels every day (or faking your address). Educators at top schools would defend their elite status to the death.

When Tung’s successor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, took office, his education chief, Michael Suen Ming-yeung, gave in and reversed course. Schools that qualified for the DSS could teach in the language of their choice, which usually meant English; and they could even introduce changes, up to a point, to the curriculum that all government and government-aided schools must follow. A few could even introduce the International Baccalaureate programme.

They could also levy a tuition, be free to privately raise funds, compete for more top students, and still receive government subsidies without a reduction. No wonder so many schools that fancied themselves as “elite” wanted in.

There are 73 primary and secondary schools under the DSS, along with about 1,000 government and aided schools. Many local families fight to send their children to elite schools, while most publicly funded schools are for the hoi polloi.

This crazy elitism has gone too far. It’s time to put a moratorium on the DSS policy.