To wrap up a very long series on primary school applications in Hong Kong, I’d like to do a couple of things.
First, I’ll add a postscript to the story of the Tall family’s own school search. I’d then like to step back and add a couple of observations about the whole experience in the context of school choice.
This is part of a series on how to choose and apply to a Primary School in Hong Kong. You can see the full list of articles on the left.
If you've reached this page via a search engine, you'll probably want to read the introduction first.
The last time I wrote on this topic, in April, Daughter Tall had been admitted to just a couple of the schools we applied to.
Things changed in June. We had calls from two of the three DSS schools in Tseung Kwan O that had previously rejected Daughter Tall. One wanted her to come in for an additional ‘interview’, but the tone of the call made it clear this was window-dressing: Daughter Tall was very likely to ‘pass’ this interview. The other didn’t even bother with any pretense; a place was on offer up front.
This June ‘shakeup’ is important for school-searchers to remember. You of course can’t bank on your kid getting late offers, but it’s inevitable that places will open up at this point as the schools have to nail down who’s actually going to be attending, and who’s dropping out because they’ve been accepted to two or more schools.
Hong Kong’s educational system, although dominated by the Education Bureau, certainly does offer genuine choices. In fact, compared with many western countries, the range of choices is quite broad. Just to recap, there are:
The obvious follow-up question, of course, is ‘Does this element of choice really make Hong Kong school better?’
Let me try to answer that by backing up a bit. First, I’ve long found it ironic how well Hong Kong students do in terms of actually getting, you know, educated, given the barrages of criticism the Hong Kong education system receives from many quarters, (with expats often leading the charge). Still, there’s no denying improvements can be made, especially in terms of loosening up the spiral of high expectations/excessive homework/achievement that drives many schools.
Having applied to quite a few schools (nine or ten, depending on how you count our progress into the schools’ various application processes), I was impressed by how hard the schools compete, not only in terms of their academic standards, but also their commitment to balancing studies with extracurricular activities.
And as the number of DSS schools and other ‘freer’ schools increases, and these schools compete for a shrinking pool of students (given Hong Kong’s worringly low birth rate) the SAR’s one-size-fits-all model of education is indeed breaking down, and real options will continue to be made available. It’s already started. Witness the floods of applications to new DSS schools promising different approaches such as UGA, and ‘music specialist’ schools such as the International Christian Quality Music Secondary and Primary School, and so on.
One final observation about school choice in Hong Kong is that, because the SAR is so densely populated, it’s a great place to promote school choice. Why? Because it’s unlikely you’ll need to move – or pay a huge housing premium – to get into a decent school. And even if you think you do need to be nearer one particular school, reasonably-priced housing is available in just about any of the government districts.
This is most patently not the case in some other countries. In my homeland, for example, many families bankrupt themselves by going too deeply into mortgage debt in order to get their kids into a decent school district.
In a good book I read recently, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, the mother/daughter authorial team, ask a simple question: if so many American families now comprise two working parents, as opposed to the single-breadwinner model from a generation or two ago, why are so many of these two-earner families going bankrupt? As the authors put it:
Why would the average person spend so much money on a home? For many parents, the answer came down to two words so powerful that families would pursue them to the brink of bankruptcy: safety and education. Families put Mom to work, used up the family's economic reserves, and took on crushing debt loads in sacrifice to these twin gods, all in the hope of offering their children the best possible start in life. (pages 22-23, italics in the original)
To mitigate this dilemma, the authors call for increased school choice via a voucher system that would, in practice, look much like – Hong Kong.
In the end, of course, it’s good to be done with the whole school choice process. Having choices is great, but there’s no doubt making them can be stressful. It was quite pleasant this week when the biggest school-related choice the Family Tall needed to make was what lunch options Daughter Tall preferred in September!