Blossoming Demand of International Schools in Hong Kong
The blossoming of international schools in Hong Kong is an interesting topic to discuss within the context of privatization of education. Although parents need to pay a fortune to secure a seat, they are still very much willing to do so. There is a long list of international schools ranging from preschools all the way to upper secondary level where they adopt the British, American, Canadian, and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs accordingly. Recently, Harrow International School, an elite boarding school that originated in Britain, has opened in Hong Kong. While fees are high, long waiting lists still exist for international schools. Why is there such a huge demand in this city? I have some insights about it after working in an international school for some time.
First of all, parents who send their children to international schools are highly educated and better off financially. They have realized the uncertainty about the future of Hong Kong’s local education system, which has undergone a series of reforms since the handover in 1997. The major ones included changing the medium of instruction from English to our mother-tongue language, introducing community colleges, transiting from the British to American model, and introducing civic education. So, what will be the next one? Parents may be afraid that their kids are only the experiments of the HKSAR government. Many parents believe that studying at international schools will ensure more stable growth and development of their children without interruptions by constant policy changes. Paradoxically, senior education officials often praise the excellence of Hong Kong local public education. In reality, only a few of them let their own children matriculate locally while most of them would like to send their children to study abroad or in international schools.
Second, the curriculum of international schools can provide a lot more than that of local schools. For example, the core of an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program comprises of “The Extended Essay”, “Theory of Knowledge”, and “Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS)”. The first one gives students a chance to examine topics of global significance through their independent research and in-depth study. The second one allows students to develop their critical thinking and coherent approach to unify and articulate various academic disciplines. The third one encourages students to engage in art for creativity, physical activity for healthy lifestyle, and service to community for having universal values.  The main focus of IB Program is to cultivate the global mindedness and international competence of the next generation to become all-rounded individuals who are prepared to tackle emerging unknown worldwide problems in the 21st century. These elements are what the local education system lacks.
Third, with the considerable amount of money that parents invest in their children, international schools are able to offer more resources than local public schools. Most importantly, there are at least full-time university guidance counselors for mentoring senior high school students to make the right decision about choosing the most suitable university according to their ability, character, and interest. In addition, international school students have more exposure to universities worldwide as many of them would visit their schools to set up booths for giving out brochures and answering queries. It could have an overarching effect on their career paths as well. In addition, there are numerous enrichment programs for students to select, like intensive English programs in America or England, short-term overseas trips to different continents, or musical performances, which also enhance their capacity of multicultural communication with classmates from various backgrounds.
Fourth, the growing numbers of expatriate communities increase the demand for international schools to accommodate their children. The laissez faire economic market of Hong Kong attracts many foreign investors to come for business in this free-port metropolis with low taxation. Some of them move there as senior management executives in multi-national corporations or scholars in well-known tertiary education intuitions. According to the survey conducted by Employment Conditions Abroad Limited, expatriates in Hong Kong obtain the fourth highest compensation packages in Asia.  In order to attract more of them to move to Hong Kong, the companies usually pay the expatriates rewarding salaries, housing allowances, plus tuition fees for international schools for their kids.
After taking the course of “International Education Policy” this semester, I see the different sides of privatization of education clearly by having more profound knowledge about its advantages and disadvantages. What’s your opinion about the international schools then? Do they distort the original meaning of education? At the very least, international schools have given the “consumers” more choice in the education “market”. At the end of the day, however, who can afford it? Obviously, international schools will keep marginalizing students from lower socio-economic status. The gap between rich and poor will just be more visualized in the field of education. People generally have a stereotype that those who can receive “quality education” are from rich backgrounds. If this kind of “privileged education” can be enjoyed by all of the children, what will our future society be like? This leaves us a lot of room to rethink the above questions and strike a balance in the global context.
 Yan, C. (2014). Guide to Hong Kong Schools and Education. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://guides.wsj.com/hong-kong/guide-to-hong-kong/education/
 Hunt, K. (2012, September 3). Elite Schools head east as Asia’s education market booms. Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/03/world/asia/asia-education/
 International Baccalaureate Organization (2014). The IB Diploma Program. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.ibo.org/diploma/
 Employment Conditions Abroad Limited (2012). Expatriates in Hong Kong enjoy Asia’s fourth-highest pay packages. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.eca-international.com/news/press_releases/7706/Expatriates_in_Hong_Kong_enjoy_Asia_s_fourth_highest_pay_packages#.U1MApPldWFU