One of the biggest decisions facing any newly arrived expatriate with a young family is where to send your children to school. Do you opt for a government school or a private establishment offering not just English-language teaching but an English or US curriculum, making it easy for your offspring to get the qualifications to attend university back home, or switch schools if you move?
Most professional expatriates will opt for the latter if they can afford it, even if it suggests a lack of willing to assimilate in the society of their adopted country. One of the main reasons many expats shun the excellent local education system of Hong Kong is that teaching is largely in Cantonese.
And in Hong Kong - as in other regions where expats are plentiful, such as the Gulf - a cosmopolitan culture means fee-paying English and other European schools exist happily alongside the local system.
Hong Kong schools - overseen by the Hong Kong Education Bureau - are divided into three categories: government schools, subsidised schools and private international schools. Subsidised schools are often run by charitable and religious groups, with government funding. Most of these schools are taught in Cantonese. All government schools are fully funded by the Hong Kong government, and most teach in both Cantonese and English. However it is up to each school to decide how much of each language is used.
When it comes to private schools there is a wide variation in the type of education offered and the fees charged. The English Schools Foundation (ESF) was established by the (then-UK controlled) Hong Kong government in 1967. The ESF aimed to provide the Hong Kong community with an affordable English language education. The ESF currently operates kindergartens, primary, secondary, private independent, and special educational schools. These schools are still not free but are a lot cheaper than private schools. Click here for information.
A few of the secondary schools that the ESF operates are West Island School, Island School, and Sha Tin College. They all provide the options you would find in any English state schools curriculum. The Island School follows the English national curriculum, with GCSEs being taken at age 16, then students have an option from age 16-19. They can either take A levels/ BTEC, or the International Baccalaureate Diploma, which is highly respected and recognised worldwide by universities.
Hong Kong also has many private international schools, which tend to be popular among expatriates. These schools vary greatly in curriculum and teaching style. With a focus on sending their students to foreign universities, these schools can be very competitive. Waiting lists can have up to 70 students each school year. Most of the international schools use an English-based curriculum and tend to be separated into the British, American, Canadian and International Baccalaureate programmes.
Some of the most competitive schools often sell monetary debentures to gain priority in the admissions process. These are also often sold to people or companies who have a high intake of expatriates.
A few of the private schools are:
DBIS is located in the heart of Discovery Bay, a coastal community on Lantau Island, not far from the airport. It markets itself as a community school, involving parents as well as students. The Discovery Bay area is a sought-after location and is popular with the Chinese and expatriates. The school's curriculum is based on the National Curriculum of England and teaching is in English, with Mandarin also taught.
But be prepared to wait and jostle for places at the best schools and to do your homework as soon as possible before moving to Hong Kong. Admission to Hong Kong private schools and ESF schools can be extremely competitive. Applications for entry are submitted a year before they are put into lists and checked. Some schools require a refundable reservation fee, as much as 50% of the annual tuition, and smaller non-refundable application fees.