Hong Kong is a “Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. The state, located in the south of China. The state maintains a separate political and economic system, excluding the military defense and foreign affairs. In the 2016 international ranking of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), Hong Kong stood at the 2nd place, just next to Singapore. To understand how a this small state has managed to be one on top of the world in education, let us have a look at its education system.
Schooling in Hong Kong starts from the age of three. There are three main types of local schools – government schools which are operated by the government; aided schools which are financed by the government but run by voluntary bodies; and private schools, some of which receive financial assistance from the government. Government and aided schools deliver a curriculum recommended by the government.
The institutions offering kindergarten or early childhood education, although registered with the Education Bureau of the state, charge fees for their services. These institutions can be categorized as non-profit-making (NPM) kindergartens (KGs) and private independent (PI) KGs, depending on their sponsoring organizations which can be either voluntary agencies or private enterprises. The primary and secondary education, however, is offered free-of-cost by government schools and aided schools. According to the official documents released by the Education Bureau, in the 2016-17 school year, there are 575 primary schools, 506 secondary day schools and 61 special schools in Hong Kong.
Medium of instruction
The government maintains a policy of “mother tongue instruction” in which the medium of instruction is Cantonese with written Chinese and English. In secondary schools, bilingual and trilingual proficiency is emphasized, and thus Mandarin language education has also been increasing.
The kindergarten education is offered to three- to six-year-old children. The aim of kindergarten education in Hong Kong is to nurture children to attain all-round development in the domains of ethics, intellect, physique, social skills and aesthetics; to develop good habits so as to prepare them for life; and to stimulate children’s interest in learning and cultivate in them positive learning attitudes, in order to lay the foundation for their future learning.
There is an inspection and regulation system operated by the Education Bureau to provide necessary guidelines and educational resources required to run a Kindergarten school (center). The Education Bureau is also responsible for the smooth implementation of standards at this level.
All children in Hong Kong, irrespective of their nationalities, can apply for fee assistance under the Kindergarten and Child Care Centre Fee Remission Scheme as long as they are under 6 years old, study in kindergartens or child care centres and can fulfill other requirements specified in the scheme.
Children receive primary education usually from the age of 6 until 12, comprising six classes or grades. The subjects offered include English, Chinese, Mathematics, General Studies, Music, Visual arts and Physical education. There is also religious education offered at schools with religious affiliations.
Secondary education starts from the age of 12. The admission to secondary schools is usually administered by the Secondary School Places Allocation System, based on the results of a student’s primary school examinations. The secondary education is separated into junior and senior years, consisting of three academic years each. The curriculum for junior secondary education includes history, geography and science, alongside subjects that have already been studied at primary schools.
In the senior years, the core subjects offered are Chinese language, English language, Mathematics and Liberal studies. Other than core subjects, students are also given the liberty of studying subjects of their own interest from a list of elective subjects.
Starting from the 2008-09 school year, senior secondary education is provided free through public sector schools. In addition, with effect from the same year, the government provides full support for full-time courses run by the Vocational Training Council for Secondary 3 leavers – i.e. those students who have completed their junior secondary education – to offer an alternative free avenue for senior secondary students outside mainstream education.
Parallel to the secondary schooling system, in which admissions are based on prior achievement, comprehensive schooling is also offered in Hong Kong in which merit and aptitude are not the basis for enrolment. Such schools also exist in three different categories; government-run; subsidized schools and private schools, often those run by religious organizations.
Commerce stream in secondary school
Commerce stream in secondary schools are considered vocational in nature. Students in the Commerce stream would usually enter the workplace to gain practical work experience by this point. The Manpower Development Committee (MDC) advices the government on co-ordination, regulation and promotion of the sector.
The students in Hong Kong face challenges in getting admission in universities as there are only 20 degree-awarding institutions, a very low number considering the growing number of students. Due to this, many students go abroad for getting higher education. Despite the small number, the universities are considered among the top tier institutions of higher education around the world. For instance, in the QS World University Rankings 2016-2017, Hong Kong University is ranked at 27th place, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is ranked at 36th place, and Chinese University of Hong Kong is ranked at the 44th place.
According to ITS Education Asia, adult education is popular in Hong Kong, since it gives middle-age adults a chance to obtain a tertiary degree. The Education Bureau has commissioned two non-profit school operators to provide evening courses for adult learners. The operators have fee remission schemes to help adult learners in need of financial assistance. Adult education courses are also offered by the Vocational Training Council through universities and private institutions. The Open University of Hong Kong is one such establishment for mature students.
Qualifications necessary for teachers and school managers
Like many other countries, only those teachers can teach (at any level ranging from Kindergarten to Higher Education) in Hong Kong, who possess certain qualifications as specified by the Education Bureau. These qualifications are ensured with the help of formal registration by the Bureau. For this purpose, the government offers various teacher education programs for prospective teachers. Specialized training programs are also offered to educators interested in becoming school managers.
Like many Asian and European countries, Hong Kong promotes trilingualism policy which means students are prepared to understand three different languages. This facilitates students in communicating with different people and express ideas and thoughts, and learn from others.
According to an OECD 2014 report on measuring innovation in education, Hong Kong is continuously improving its rankings in the use of technology in schools and other such parameters. The OECD was based on three international datasets like the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and the Programme on International Student Assessment (PISA).
Like Singapore’s education system, Hong Kong’s system is often criticised for creating unnecessary pressure on children. So much so that some parents have changed the schools of their children because they were unable to handle academic stress. Parents and schools create pressure on students to perform well in exams which often create psychological problems for them. Considering these challenges, a debate is going on among the education experts and psychologists to finds out solutions of these problems. Media is also increasingly vocal about such issues and parents are now demanding a right balance in growth and mental health of students.
Private schools in Hong Kong are extremely expensive
Hong Kong is an expensive place to live in. One of the main reasons of high living costs is its expensive private school education. According to a new study by HSBC Bank plc, one of the largest banking and financial services organizations in the world, education in Hong Kong is by far the most expensive in the world.
The study looked at how much parents in different countries and territories around the world spend on their children’s education.
According to the report, parents in Hong Kong spend on average over $130,000 from primary school all the way through to undergraduate university degree.
The UAE came at two position with $100,000 while Singapore came at number three with $70,000.
Surprisingly, the United States came on number four position.
Parents in United States — home to six of the top 10 global universities — spend less than half ($58,000) the cost parents pay in Hong Kong.
“If well paid locals and expatriates who work directly or indirectly in financial services are relocating from Hong Kong because they can’t keep up with housing and education costs, then how difficult it must be for average citizens?” according to a recent article which published in South China Morning Post, a Hong Kong based newspaper.