Mr Tall has written a very thorough series of articles about applying for a local Hong Kong Primary School for your child.  They are written with the non-Hong-Kong-native parent in mind, but they should be helpful to any parent that's starting to get ready for this.

NB 'Primary School' in these articles refers to a local school, rather than an international school. Apart from a tiny number of exceptions, children entering a local primary school will be able to speak chinese fluently, and already know how to read and write a small number of chinese characters. If you are an expat parent whose children don't speak any chinese, these articles won't apply to you. You should be looking at international primary schools instead.

The full set of articles is listed on the left of your screen. They are written in the order that the key events happen in practice - so that's probably the easiest way to read them.

Feel free to leave comments on this or any of the articles if you have any questions, corrections, or extra information to add.


Moving to HK

We will be moving to HK from Singapore in mid 2010 and my son will be 5 in Aug.  I've been going through the primary school business on this site and it looks really daunting.  My son speaks English, understands Mandarin, and recognises a few Chinese characters.  We speak to him in Cantonese at home and he is able to reply.  My worry is whether he would be able to catch up in the local schools, and whether he would be able to cope with the pressure.  But we would like him to learn Chinese through the local system.   My question is if we miss the primary school selection process, will there be any places left for students coming in from overseas.  Thanks.

re: Moving to HK

When we were visiting local schools' open days last year, one of the teachers pointed out a Pakistani boy in P6, saying that when he joined them in P1 he didn't know any chinese at all. She'd helped him in the first year.

So, children are still flexible enough to learn the language quickly and fluently at that age. But yes, it's going to be hard work for the first year. The key point will be whether the school is happy to help, or is going to make you and your son feel like you're a burden to them. So I'd be upfront with them about your son's language abilities, and ask the school if they have experience of working with similar children.

In the area where we live, there seems to be some room in the government schools, as we hear of children changing school even during the first year. Obviously, the better the school, the harder it will be to get in.

Have you written to the education department to see what they recommend for someone in your situation? eg is it possible to take part in the application process from overseas, if you can prove that you'll be here by the start of the 2010/1 school year?

Good luck, and please let us know how you get on.

Regards, MrB

Moving to HK

Thanks for the tip, Mrs. B! A good idea to write to the ED.  Which area do you live in?  Would like to check out the primary schools in that area. Will keep you posted :-)

re: Moving to HK

According to the Education Bureau's classification we're in the 'Central & Western' district on HK Island.

Dear A, If, as you mention,

Dear A,

If, as you mention, your son will only be 5 in August 2010, you should have no worries. In the local system, children start Primary 1 in the year of their 6th birthday so your son is looking to start school in September 2011 (it's a year earlier if you opt for international schools though). You will be in good time for the local school selection process if you arrive in the middle of this year. Most local private and DSS schools start accepting applications around September/October of the year before (so September of this year for you). The form for the government-aided schools allocation needs to be filled in at the beginning of November if you want to try for that system.

So the good news is you have a year to brush up your son's Chinese skills and you won't miss any of the selection process. It's still a good idea to start the school research early though so that you have some in mind to apply for in the autumn.

Good luck!


Apply for primary school

Hello Mr.Tall & B

Your articles about choosing and applying for primary schools are very informative and helpful.  I am in dilemma regarding school choices. Here is my story: my son speaks Mandarin and English(no Cantonese in this family), who is now in KCS kindergarten(the only school uses Mandarin as medium). I consider to apply for DSS primary school(English is teaching medium) for him after I researched HK's secondary schools' ranking and found that KCS's secondary school is ranked in low.  Considering that he will be at disadvantage to get into other decent secondary school after six years Mandarin immersion at KCS primary school, I would rather make him onto transition to a "real" local school at early stage.  But I feel disappointed to notice from your article that interviews were all solid in Cantonese. I prefer traditional teaching method to that at International Schools.  So my questions are: shall I keep him stay in Mandarin speaking school? or shall i go ahead and apply for  DSS schools? If so, how is the chance to win out in interview if my son will act like dumb or retarded only because he can't use Cantonese to reply?

re: Apply for primary school


Your case is not so unusual. With mainland families rotating through Hong Kong on job postings, many local Cantonese-speaking schools will have a handful of mandarin-only-speaking children in each year. If your son speaks fluent english as well as mandarin, he is already going to find school easier than the mandarin-only children.

If the school doesn't find out your son can't speak cantonese until the interview, you've left it too late and are wasting the school's time and yours. As part of creating your short-list of schools to apply to, contact the school (or attend their open day), explain your situation, and ask if it is going to cause problems. If they say "YES", at least you'll know and can cross them off the list. If they're cagey about the answer, I'd cross them off too. If you get an enthusiastic "No problem" add them to the list and ask if you could talk to any parents of existing pupils at the school in a similar situation.

When we were visiting school open days with our mixed daughter, schools behanved very differently. At one the headmistress came up to us to make it very clear that families with less than fluent written and spoken chinese abilities were not welcome. At another the teacher we asked pointed out an indian boy who had joined her P1 class not speaking any chinese, and was now fluent.

Readers, what would you suggest?

Regards, MrB


Hello Mr. B

Thanks so much for your advice.  I will contact schools to verify their attitudes in my case. I have browsed school's website, which says it aims to serve the local and international community in HK. It is an English school and teaching medium is mainly in English.  So I might go on with application unless they are really keen on choosing local and cantonese speaking child only.  Actually, I have already started to prepare my son through "Interview classes"  and activity classes conducted only in Cantonese. We watched local TVs together to study Cantonese.  My son can understand the basic questions in Cantonese, but answer in pure same language is a bit challenge for him.

Should I make it explicit to school on application form or talk to teacher/ staff on interview date that my son will communicate in English or Mandarin only?  Actually my son's Chinese is very good according to her Mandarin speaking class teacher in K2.  So, I am thinking is: what tactic should I apply in the application to present a true story, not to impress them with a dumb one.

Welcome all the suggestion and advice.  Will check back here after coming back from vacation.  Wish you all have a happy summer holiday!


DSS primary school

for what it's worth, my daughter attends a Mandarin/English DSS primary school in the NT and her assessment/interview was conducted purely in English. Good English was a prerequisite for getting a place - testified by the fact that the school has a small amount of students who are from a non-Cantonese speaking background.

The good thing about DSS is, because they are semi-private, you can apply to as many as you want. With local school application you are limited to a choice of 3 and the applications are subject to ballot i.e. even though you apply there is still no guarantee a place will be given to you.

Just apply to as many DSS schools as you can and see how it goes.


government schools for non-citizens/PRs

Hi, thanks very much for sharing your experience in choosing primary schools in Hong Kong. We find it extremely useful.

We have two yound children and plan to move to Hong Kong soon. I read somewhere else that the government schools in HK are open to HK citizens or Permanent Residents only. We are quite concerned about this. Is this true?



No, this isn't true. As long

No, this isn't true. As long as your children are residents (and they will be once they have their dependent visas) then they can theoretically go to any school in HK. Of course with local Govt schools, not being able to speak Cantonese will be their main barrier. If your kids speak Cantonese then you will have no problem getting them into a local Govt school - however, due to the ballot process it may not be your first choice, but this is the experience with everyone applying to local schools.

Local schools for non-Cantonese speaking children?

A friend of mine, who is a local primary school teacher told me that a non-Cantonese speaking children will have a hard time adjusting to social life (I'd expect that), and the school's normal policy for non-Cantonese speaking children (including ones who recently came from the mainland) to attend classes two, or even three grade levels below, in order to catch up. She also told me that honestly, with all the competitive pressures of tests, exams, appraisals that the teachers are facing, having to "take care" of non-local children is a burden for them. Unless you are lucky and have a teacher who is extra patient and loving.