Blossoming Demand of International Schools in Hong Kong

            

internationalization in education

 

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.[1] 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.[2] 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. [3] 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.

IB learner profile

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. [4] 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.

internationalization in edu

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.

 

[1] 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/

[2] 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/

[3] International Baccalaureate Organization (2014). The IB Diploma Program. Retrieved on April 19, 2014, from http://www.ibo.org/diploma/

[4] 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 

 

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Widespread Culture of Private Tutoring in Hong Kong

The course “International Education Policy” under the Master’s Program of Comparative and International Education at Lehigh University has broadened my view in various ways. One of them is the area of private tutoring, which has also been referred to as “Shadow Education” by Dr. Mark Bray.[1] Dr. Bray is the UNESCO Chair Professor of Comparative Education in the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong whose research focuses on private supplementary tutoring.[2]Before taking this course, I had an impression that private tutoring primarily existed in Southeast Asian countries. However, I have learned that it has been very common in many parts of the world, including Europe and the United States, but just in different forms. It reminds me of many interesting scenarios about private tutoring in Hong Kong, which I will examine in this blog.

Mainly, there are two types of private tutoring in Hong Kong. One is held at home and the other one is held in the education centers, which operate as businesses. For the former one, numerous online websites serve as a bridge between students and private tutors to match the requirements or criteria of both parties.[3]  For the latter one, there are significant numbers of education centers with a wide variety of choices for the public, including classes in musical instruments, dancing, artwork, languages, sports, martial arts, or even actuarial science. Some people may refer to these classes as enrichment programs. Evidently, many learning centers also offer classes in academic areas, like English, Mathematics, Chinese, while some of them purposely assist students tackle local or overseas public examinations, including SAT and TOEFL.  

Many factors contribute to the flourishing industry of private tutoring in Hong Kong. First, Hong Kong’s examination-oriented education system has put too much emphasis on the students’ academic results, which can alter their future academic and professional trajectories. The recent shift from two to one public examination due to education reform from the British to American model further accelerated the explosion of private tutoring as students have much more pressure to only have one chance at succeeding on the exam.[4] However, being a good student does not mean that you can be successful in these examinations. What students need are the techniques and strategies to predict accurately the topics or questions in the upcoming exams according to the pattern from the past papers, as it is almost impossible for students to study all of the materials that teachers provide in the curriculum. By paying tuition for private tutoring, students hope to perfect the specific skills that they cannot learn in public schools because regular schoolteachers are deprived of comparable resources or the time to do that.[5]

Second, Hong Kong parents have the mentality of pushing their children to achieve excellently in academics due to the great influence of Confucianism.[6] Because the birth rate of this city is one of the lowest in the world,[7] “tiger parents” often place all their hopes in one child to become a “Dragon” – an almighty creature in Chinese culture.[8] Before the babies are born, mothers already think about which kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools their children would need to get in, so that they could attend the top universities and have good jobs at the end. Parents also believe that private tutoring could assist their children in learning extra information, so that they could succeed on public examinations. In addition, parents expect their children to become competent in all areas, including languages, art, music, sports, and martial arts. They do not want them to lose at the starting point. As a result, they force their children to enter this vicious cycle of competitions and occupy their free time with many private classes – no matter whether they like it or not, often as early as only one or two years old. Sometimes, kids are tired and cannot enjoy their childhoods due to excessive external study. We can imagine how much academic stress Hong Kong’s next generation needs to bear, especially those who fail in this system. This pressure has been blamed for a growing suicide rate among students with poor academic record.[9]

Third, being a private tutor in Hong Kong can be a lucrative career. I used to be a part-time private tutor for primary school students when I was an undergraduate student to help cover living expenses. Some tutors can even make a living from tutoring services. Recently, Hong Kong has experienced a new phenomenon of some private tutors from education centers becoming famous celebrities like kings or queens. The most successful one is Richard Eng who has become a multi-millionaire! He founded Beacon College and he is considered to be the firstcelebrity tutor in Hong Kong. He wears lipstick for photo shoots and all classes are broadcast live through closed-circuit television.[10] With this career, he is able to drive a half-a-million-dollar Lamborghini car as well as dress himself up with brand-name clothing and manicured hair. [11]

5. private tutor billboard

6. private tutor billboard

Fourth, there is a lack of governmental regulations of private tutoring and many tutors operate no differently than entrepreneurs. The most fascinating phenomenon is the emergence of giant billboards in the most popular places where teenagers go. This creates the image of private tutors as pop stars. Besides, millions and millions of advertisements go online. Glossy brochures and impressive promotional videos are seen everywhere. Some tutoring schools will have full-page newspaper advertisements and television screens in railway stations and on buses to catch youngsters’ attention, claiming to transform failing students into A-grade pupils.[12]  Some tutors even have their own teams of stylists, fashion designers and photographers to make them look perfect and attract students.[13] Lately, with the advancement of technology, students can have additional purchases such as personalized interaction with the star tutor or the tutor’s assistant via Facebook or email.[14]

3. private tutor billboard

1. private tutoring ad. on the bus

Research in other countries suggests that private tutoring is a manifestation of privatization in education. According to a recent study conducted by the Asian Development Bank and the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong, private tutoring will aggravate social inequalities, divert needed household income into an unregulated industry, and generate inefficiencies in education systems. [15] Sadly, the private tutoring phenomenon also demonstrates how little confidence parents and students in Hong Kong have in public education to lead the achievement of our next generation.  

 

[1] Bray, M.(2009). Confronting the shadow education system: What government policies for private tutoring? Paris, France: UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning.

[2] The University of Hong Kong (2014). Faculty of Education – About the Faculty – Professor BRAY, Mark. Retrieved on April 12, 2014 from http://web.edu.hku.hk/staff/academic/mbray

[3] Hon, H.N. (2010). Hong Kong’s Shadow Education: Private Tutoring in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Anthropologist,  4 (10).

[4] Sharma, Y (2012, November 27). Meet the “tutor kings and queens”. The BBC. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-20085558

[5] Lui, M. (2007, January 28). Hot for teacher in Hong Kong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jan/28/news/adfg-sexy28

[6] Ho, E.S.C., LAM, C.C., and WONG, N.Y. (2002). Parents’ Beliefs and Practices in Education in Confucian Heritage Cultures: The Hong Kong Case. Journal of Southeast Asian Education, 3(1), 99-114.

[7] The World Bank Group (2014). Fertility Rate, Total (Births per women). Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.TFRT.IN

[8] Ministry of Culture, P.R. China (2003). The Almighty Dragon. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-02/25/content_45896.htm

[9] Takoaka, N. (2013, December 12). Asian students still ace world rankings. Nikkei Asian Review. Retrieved on April  13, 2014, from http://asia.nikkei.com/print/article/8662

[10] Ng, Y.H. (2009, June 1).  In Hong Kong, Cram School Teachers’ Image Rivals Pop Stars’. New York Times. Retrieved on April 13, 2014,from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/01/business/global/01iht-cramside.html?_r=0

[11] Corren, A. (2009, November 10). Hong Kong’s ‘celebrity tutors’ turn millionaires. Cable News Netowrk. Retrieved on April 13, 2014 from http://edition.cnn.com/2009/BUSINESS/11/08/hong.kong.celebrity.tutors/index.html

[12] The Independent (2011, June 5). Exam-obsessed Hong Kong makes celebrity tutors rich. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/examobsessed-hong-kong-makes-celebrity-tutors-rich-2293297.html

[13] Lui, M. (2007, January 28). Hot for teacher in Hong Kong. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jan/28/news/adfg-sexy28

[14] Sharma, Y (2012, November 27). Meet the “tutor kings and queens”. The BBC. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-20085558

[15] Asian Development Bank (2012). ADB Study Highlights Dark Side of ‘Shadow Education’. Retrieved on April 12, 2014, from http://www.adb.org/news/adb-study-highlights-dark-side-shadow-education

The Controversies of Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong

pic 4
Civic education seems an indispensable element for the citizens in most of the nations. Some countries may refer to it as “Citizenship Education” or “National Education.” According to Branson and Quigley (1998), civic education in a democracy is education to encourage citizens to become actively involved in their own governance. In other words, citizens should have critical mindset and not just passively accept the demands of others.  It includes the study of civic law and civic code, and the study of government with attention to the roles, rights, and duties of citizens in the operation and oversight of government.

Ideally, democracy is fully realized when every member of the political community shares in its governance. Members of the political body are its citizens and membership implies participation. Citizens’ participation in a democratic society must be based on informed, critical reflection, and on the understanding and acceptance of the rights and responsibilities that go with that membership.[1] The goal is to engage citizens to be actively involved in the governance or politics and cultivate their positive attitudes towards their own country.

Not surprisingly, the introduction of Moral, Civic, and National Education into Hong Kong’s public school curriculums through Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s “Policy Address 2010-2011” has raised a lot of controversy in the society, especially in the academic arena. The HKSAR Government planned to implement the reform in various stages by initially introducing a new subject in primary schools in 2012 and then in secondary schools in 2013.[2] Notwithstanding a gradual implementation approach, there have been waves of demonstrations by parents, teachers, and students. During the peak day on July 29, 2012, 90,000 people (or 32,000 according to the government’s estimates) went on the streets to demonstrate in super hot and humid weather.[3] The protesters firmly believed that the main political motivation behind Chinese Central Government in Beijing was to use Moral, Civic, and National Education as a tool to “brainwash” the citizens in Hong Kong with its communist ideology. They were afraid that the degree of freedom in this special administrative region would be gradually limited or eventually diminished. The demonstration had even caught international attention through the mass media such as New York Times, NBC, CNN, or BBC news.

 

pic 1

pic 2

 

The main reason for this controversy was that people in Hong Kong have been suffering from an identity crisis after a century of British rule. Annually, the University of Hong Kong implements a public survey through Public Opinion Program to keep track of the progress of the citizens’ identity. In the questionnaire, one of the questions directly asks about the self-perception of identity among the people of Hong Kong, with the following multiple choices available as a possible response: “Hong Kong Citizen,” “Chinese Citizen,” “Hong Kong Chinese Citizen,” “Chinese Hong Kong Citizen,” “Other,” “Don’t Know / hard to say,” or “Refuse to answer.”[4] Most of the Hong Kong citizens always distinguish themselves from the Mainland Chinese.

Ironically, most Hong Kong people are actually the early settlers from China. As students during the British colonial era, however, we did not study anything about a national identity associated with China. We can see that education is a powerful socialized tool to influence one’s mind. After handover to the Chinese regime in 1997, we have witnessed a series of ongoing clashes between Hong Kong and Mainland China in political, economic, and cultural aspects. More and more conflicts between these two places have surfaced with the massive coverage of media every day.

In introducing Moral, Civic, and National Education in Hong Kong, different actors played an active role behind the scenes – including the Chinese Central Government, the Hong Kong SAR Government, various political parties, educators, and youth (students) – all with their own interests and agendas. This created a divisive scenario, i.e. Chinese Central Government, the Hong Kong SAR Government, pro-Chinese political parties, educators, and students, on one side, and demonstrators against them, on another side. Some youth put their health at risk by going on hunger strike outside the government headquarters for days and days to illustrate the intensity of their anger, although some critics believed that political parties paid students for going on strike. Later, the hunger strike included teachers, a parent, and even a retired professor.[5] Following the serious resistance and criticism from the broader community, the government finally was willing to delay the introduction of the new school subject by suggesting a three-year trial run period, allowing the schools to start, at the latest, in 2015 after consultation and major amendments of some sensitive terms.[6]

 

pic 3

 

Moreover, there have been divergent views towards Moral, Civic, and National Education among the community-at-large and the official website of the Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government. It seemed that Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government has included civic education in a very subtle way. The website says that the new subject could develop students’ ability to analyze and judge issues relating to personal, family, social, national, and global issues at different developmental stages, and increase their motivation to make commitment and contribution. The areas will include current issues, moral education, national education, life education, values education, basic law education, health education, sex education, environmental education, and human rights education.[7] Conversely, the public may believe that it would be chiefly to promote national education and enhance students’ understanding of China and national identity.[8]

This education reform literally reflected how little trust Hong Kong citizens have in the Chinese Central government. It may also show how frightened the next generation is about convergence with the motherland, Mainland China. From my own perspective, this trend is just unavoidable as it is a way for Hong Kong to have a better integration. The influence from China overall will be further intensified in the coming decades. Hong Kong people just cannot deny the fact that we have to depend much on China, particularly in the economic development. At the very least, we have to deal with the influx of increasingly large numbers of Mainland Chinese tourists every day. Hence, we have a saying: “Hong Kong people have dual feelings towards China, both hatred and loving emotions.”

 

[1] Branson, M.S. & Quigley, C.N. (1998). The Role of Civic Education. George Washington University. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.gwu.edu/~ccps/pop_civ.html

[2] Liu, J. (2012, August 31). Hong Kong debates ‘national education’ classes. The BBC. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-19407425

[3] Lai, A. (2012, July 30). National education’ raises furor in Hong Kong.  Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/30/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-controversy/

[4] University of Hong Kong (2014). Public Opinion Program. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://hkupop.hku.hk/english/popexpress/qre/tp1312075_18.html

[5] Lai, A. (2012, September 4). Hong Kong school year starts hunger strikes.  Cable News Network. Retrieved on April 4, 2014,from http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/04/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-protests/

[6] Chong & Tam (2012, October 9). Controversial guidelines on national education shelved. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1056653/controversial-guidelines-national-education-shelved

[7] Education Bureau of the HKSAR Government (2014). Moral, Civic and National Education. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from   http://www.edb.gov.hk/en/curriculum-development/4-key-tasks/moral-civic/index.html

[8] International Business Times (2012, September 6). Hong Kong Protestors of National Education Wary of Integration with Mainland China. Retrieved on April 4, 2014, from http://www.ibtimes.com/hong-kong-protesters-national-education-wary-integration-mainland-china-780011

Community Colleges in Hong Kong: Are they helpful or harmful?

dilemma

When we mention the term “community college,” most of us will naturally relate it to the North American education system. Surprisingly, the Hong Kong government adopted the idea of community colleges in 2000. As Hong Kong’s education system is deeply based on the British model, introducing community colleges has not only been a dramatic change for educators and students, but also a huge mismatch of expectations among different stakeholders.

In North America, the system of community colleges is very well developed and has a long history. It first started in the early years of the twentieth century to cater to the need of the nation’s expanding industries. Community colleges are seen as important higher education institutions.[1] In addition, they have comprehensive articulation arrangements and credit transfer systems between community colleges and nearby four-year institutions. Therefore, students mostly are able to go on to obtain bachelor’s degrees.[2]

In Hong Kong, following the Annual Policy Address from the Chief Executive Tung Chee-Wah in 2000, the government encouraged establishing community colleges as a part of education reforms and life-long learning. It also aimed to have 60% of the senior secondary school leavers receive tertiary education in ten years.[3] In this context, the industry of community colleges has blossomed.

Eight public universities in Hong Kong, one after another, started setting up community colleges under their umbrellas.  Most of them have been self-financing. In other words, their income has depended heavily on the numbers of enrolled students. The speed of expansion has been incredible.

At the same time, the concept of community colleges has been a brand new idea to the general public in Hong Kong, partially because the education system has been greatly influenced by the UK model where community colleges are non-existent. Moreover, according to the traditional mindset, merely the top 18% of the post-secondary students are qualified to enter the formal tertiary institutions.[4] Those who cannot proceed to the mainstream universities would be considered to be academically inferior. Choosing the path of community colleges in Hong Kong would be one of the alternatives for students to try to find a way out.

The incorporation of the elements of the American education system into the British one triggered many problems. First, naming the Associate Degree Programs from community colleges as “sub-degree programs” would give a very wrong perception, implying the inferior status of the community college program to the bachelor’s degree programs. The notion would be radically different from the North American system, where community colleges have been considered to be a vital part of its higher education system.

Second, when community colleges were first established, all the parents, students, and educators lacked basic confidence in the Associate Degree Programs. They were unaware of where these diplomas would lead students to. Moreover, the idea of community colleges has not gained recognition from employers who received education in previous decades and had no concept of community colleges.  In other words, community colleges created much uncertainty in the society.

Third, as most of the community colleges are self-financed, they appear to use this opportunity to make education a business. Community colleges thus become one example of commercializing education. The more students community colleges enroll, the more profit they earn. In 2012, Lingnan Institute of Further Education and the Community College of Lingnan University admitted 5,300 new students, three times more than the previous year. Among other problems, there were reports of lacking chairs in classrooms.[5] This case caught the attention of the public, leading to the investigation by the Legislative Council. More importantly, however, it shook the foundation of trust in education quality in Hong Kong.

Fourth, an ongoing opening of new community colleges has led to over expansion. A total number of full-time accredited self-financing post-secondary programs jumped from 41 in the 2001/2002 academic year to 199 in the 2004/2005 academic year.[6]  It contributed to over supply of post-secondary degrees in Hong Kong, putting the quality of education into question.

Last but not least, the link between community colleges and universities have not been clearly established. Most of the students from community colleges who attempted to transfer into universities have failed to get admission to local tertiary institutions owing to fierce competition and highly selective admission conditions.[7] Even though some overseas universities have recognized the diplomas issued by community colleges in Hong Kong, a large percentage of local students could not afford paying the tuition fee and living expenses. Unfortunately, this group of students would end up facing a dilemma. They could neither have good jobs from employers nor gain access to bachelor’s degree programs.

Clearly, the community college system in Hong Kong needs a complete re-evaluation. Although the government would like to have almost everyone to receive post-secondary education, the solution of the community colleges has generated more difficulties.  The implementation of the community colleges in Hong Kong not only failed to capture the essence of the North American community college system, but also has revealed the shortsighted weakness of the HKSAR government.


[1] Yung, Man Sing (2005). Globalization and sustainability of the community college in the Asia-Pacific region: the case of Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 4,

[2] Brawer, F., Cohen, A. & Kisker, C. (2013). The American Community College, 6th ed.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

[3] Yung, Man Sing (2002). Community College: A new born baby of the Hong Kong education system for the new millennium. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 1, 22.

[4] Time Out Group Limited (2013, August 27). Hong Kong’s growing shortage of university places. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/features/60578/hong-kongs-growing-shortage-of-university-places.html

[5] Chong, Dennis (2012, October 17). Lingnan students warn burgeoning numbers threaten education quality. South China Morning Post. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1062640/lingnan-students-warn-burgeoning-numbers-threaten-education-quality

6 Yung, Man Sing (2005). Globalization and sustainability of the community college in the Asia-Pacific region: the case of Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 4. 

7 Yung, Man Sing (2002). Community College: A new born baby of the Hong Kong education system for the new millennium. Hong Kong Teachers’ Centre Journal, 1, 22.

Education Reforms in Hong Kong: Which way will they go?

1st blog cartoon

Hong Kong, where I grew up, is a fascinating place due to its British colonial history and its geographic location adjacent to Mainland China. I did not realize it until I left the region to observe it from a different perspective. Unavoidably, the education system has been greatly influenced by the changing governance from British to Chinese influence since 1997. In this mega city, nobody has been able to escape the sweeping tide of political transition, including the turmoil and challenges faced by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in implementing new policies. Hong Kong history perfectly exemplifies policy borrowing from England and then from China in its education system.

British government never failed to impose its systems on the (former) colonies. After a 100 years of British rule, which resulted in Hong Kong’s transformation from a small fishing village to a metropolitan city, it is not hard to find traces of British culture in every corner of this city, including double-deck buses, or exactly the same street names as those in England, and even the concept of an afternoon tea time. Politically, it has a legislative system similar to parliament, a Chief Secretary to run a wide ranging bureaucracy, and Minister working as an Executive Council under a Chief Execute. Besides political and cultural influences, the British introduced major reforms in the education system as the most effective way to instill British values in the next generation. Therefore, all students are required to learn English from the age of three in kindergarten.

Using English as a medium of instruction may have been a plus, enabling Hong Kong citizens to be linguistically competent in both the East and the West. It has also pleased Chinese parents so much. For previous generations, good quality education was not accessible until the British government executed nine-year compulsory education in 1978. We cannot forget that the parental influence on children in Chinese culture can affect the life of the next generation. Parents strongly believe that their children (especially with good English language skills) could lead them to flourishing lives, not only at schools but also along their career paths.

In addition, Hong Kong used to have the educational structures greatly modeled on those of the United Kingdom, including six years of primary school, seven years of secondary school, with three years of tertiary education for those who could succeed in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination.

Before the handover of sovereignty in 1997, China and Great Britain agreed that Hong Kong would follow “One Country, Two Systems,” i.e. that it would remain unchanged for 50 years and that during this period Hong Kong would gradually converge with the Mainland.  This policy was issued by Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), for the reunification of China during the early 1980s. It simply meant Hong Kong could retain its distinct identity, political system, and strengths as an international business, financial, shipping, and aviation centre, while the rest of China would continue to align with the socialist system.[1]

However, this agreement did not prevent the Chinese government from wiping the colonial influence in Hong Kong.  Since Tung Chee-hwa, the first HKSAR Chief Executive, started his term, the education system has undergone constant reforms.

Since the post-colonial period, changing the medium of instruction in secondary schools has been one of the most controversial policies in Hong Kong’s education. Prior to the 1970s, English was still the only official language, which earned a supreme status in people’s mind.[2] English was the language of government, education, academia, and law. It was always considered an elite language. This mindset has been implanted for generations.

In April 1997, three months before the handover, HKSAR government published a document regarding compulsory Chinese medium instruction policy. It suggested that using mother tongue would help students understand education content more thoroughly. On the contrary, many students, parents, and the schools held opposite ideas and protested against it. In September 2007, the government stepped back to give more freedom to schools to be exempt from this policy.[3] As a result, only 25% of the secondary schools were approved to continue EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) education, whereas the rest of the secondary schools must use CMI (Chinese as a Medium of Instruction) in teaching most subjects except English.[4] This shift made Hong Kong citizens realize the political nature of the education reform.

Furthermore, the new language policy required teachers to enhance their language proficiency. Thus, there was an emergence of Language Proficiency Assessment for Teachers in 2008 to mainly assess the Mandarin and English skills. In 2009, there was a new curriculum introduced at senior secondary level, Liberal Studies. This subject has been a great challenge to Hong Kong students who did not get much training in critical thinking in the old education system. In the same year, another dramatic reform was the application of the Chinese educational system, which followed the American model of “three-three-four” (middle school-high school-tertiary education). This has affected all levels of local students and educators. It has also meant getting rid of the British structure. Students would end up having one public examination, the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), instead of taking two that were mentioned earlier. The most controversial area was the introduction of civic education in 2012, which caused a series of radical protests initiated by political parties and youth.

Changing language policy in education was only the first wave of reforms that the HKSAR government has initiated to decrease the British influence over the years. The reactions of parents, students, and educators have been very strong, reflecting not only the deep-rooted mindset about the privileged status of English in this city, but also the achievement of British rule over the citizens during its colonial period. The entire reform movement generates more societal instability, which inevitably lowers the confidence of parents in the local schools.


[1] GovHK (2013). Government. Retrieved from http://www.gov.hk/en/about/abouthk/facts.htm

[2] Poon, Anita (2004). Language Policy in Hong Kong: Its Impact on language education and language use in post-handover Hong Kong. Journal of Taiwan Normal University, 49. Retrieved from  http://www.ord.ntnu.edu.tw/ntnuj/j49/j491-13.pdf

[3]  Poon, Anita (2004). Language Policy in Hong Kong: Its Impact on language education and language use in post-handover Hong Kong. Journal of Taiwan Normal University, 49. Retrieved from  http://www.ord.ntnu.edu.tw/ntnuj/j49/j491-13.pdf

[4] Shiwen, Pan (2000). Hong Kong’s Bilingual Past and Present. Hong Kong Institute of Education. Retrieved from http://www.uri.edu/iaics/content/2000v10n1/08%20Pan%20Shiwen.pdf