Even though the education system in Hong Kong is the envy of many other countries and regions, many parents, sensing that schools in China's special administrative region are becoming too rigid, are seeking out alternatives both on the island and abroad. South China Morning Post reports that this desire for a change is what driving the increase in applications from Hong Kong residents to places like the English Schools Foundation and international boarding schools.
Even the recent moves by the government – such as the introduction of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam – aimed at deemphasizing the importance of exam results haven't appreciably slowed the tide of students leaving the region's education system. Increasingly, parents with the means to do so are instead sending their kids to school in the UK and even Beijing, all to avoid the intense atmosphere of academic competition prevalent in local schools.
Grace Leung Lai-kuen sent her eldest child to an international school in Beijing three years ago, and has since been comforted by the positive changes she has seen. The mother of three was put off by the hugely competitive, high-pressure environment in the local system.
"There is no room for late bloomers; they are easily discouraged from Form 1 to 3 under the local system," she sighed.
When her daughter's weak math skills made it increasingly likely that she would not be promoted to the next class along with her peers, Leung thought that a change of schools was in order. While lack of English ruled out schools abroad, Leung arranged for her daughter to board with a friend in Beijing and attend school there. It's been only a few years, but she is thriving. Glad to be away from under the intense pressure to succeed common in Hong Kong schools, she is now much more optimistic about her future.
Leung's sons are also attending schools elsewhere. Both are enrolled in Harrow International School and board there during the year.
"My 13-year-old used to hate going to school. He missed school assignments and waited till the last minute to leave home for school," Leung recalled. One reason, she said, was because he was sidelined by classmates because his marks were not as good as theirs. "They did not want to involve him in their group projects, and he felt bitter about it," she said.
Those who fear that going out of the local school system for an education might retard their college plans often find to their surprise that it might actually aid their higher education ambitions. Hong Kong's premier university, the University of Hong Kong, reserves 20% of its admission slots for those who studied in schools that don't use the local Joint University Programme Admissions System curriculum. At another school, the Polytechnic University's Design School, more than half of the first-year students are so-called non-Jupas.
The pressure to study an international curriculum is taking its toll on Heep Yunn School, an Anglican girls' school in Ma Tau Wai funded through the Direct Subsidy Scheme. Twenty-six of its Form Five students have left to study overseas this year, up from just three last year. That's despite the fact that the school supplements the local curriculum with GCSE-level English and a maths course for junior pupils who plan to sit GCSEs later.