Thursday, September 03, 2009

Chinatown Overcrowded

By Chip Tsao | published Sep 03, 2009

A recent report reveals that Hong Kong’s international schools have been swarming with local Chinese students since the handover. Hong Kong parents are voting with their children’s feet as they flee from the SAR government’s patriotic educational policies, despite the much higher school fees. Most international schools see half of their yearly intake consist of local Chinese students, and at the highest end of the spectrum, an overwhelming 80 percent are local Chinese students.

As ordinary consumers, can parents write in to the consumer council to protest these so-called “international” schools? After all, you pay triple the fare for a first-class cabin to New York because you are expecting caviar, Australian steak, a fine Burgundy and a relaxing conversation about Sino-American trade relations with the senile Henry Kissinger character seated to your right. You don’t expect a crowd of Mong Kok housewives who fall asleep belching after a boisterous chicken feet feast.

No, that’s not value for money. International schools in Hong Kong used to guarantee the highest quality of education, which was tacitly understood to have been achieved through apartheid. In the pre-1997 days, an international school only accepted children of colonial Taipans, British soldiers, German businessmen or Austrian diplomats. Even if there was the occasional Asian face in the classroom, they must’ve been there for a legitimate reason—say, they were Yo-Yo Ma’s child, and he had no choice but to live in Hong Kong because he accepted a two-year contract with the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

For most sensible Hong Kong parents, sending their kids to an international school is a bit like shopping at Lane Crawford. You don’t mind paying more for a set of Wedgwood porcelain as long as it’s made in England and not a warehouse in Shenzhen. Buying into an “international school” and finding yourself surrounded by Cantonese-speaking students is a commercial bait and switch, even if your Shakespeare class is taught by an enthusiastic young expat from Birmingham who is in Hong Kong for six months in-between backpacking trips to Kathmandu and Yunnan.

Most civil servants and government secretaries who are on educational allowances have their kids sent to boarding schools in Britain while they simultaneously promote mandatory mother-tongue teaching to Hong Kong parents. But the latter is why “international schools” in Hong Kong are more packed with Chinese people than the Printemps department store in Paris. Next time when you book your first-class flight to New York, make sure you are served the right caviar and wine, although you may resent having to sit next to someone like Henry Kissinger.

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