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LCQ14: Provision of international school places for non-Chinese speaking children

     Following is a question by the Hon Abraham Shek and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (February 8):


     It has been reported that a four-year-old non-Chinese speaking (NCS) child of a Native-speaking English Teacher (NET) who settled in Hong Kong two years ago under the Government's NET Scheme has been schooled at home as there has been difficulty in finding a school place for the child in a kindergarten that uses English as the medium of instruction, despite efforts in contacting more than 50 international and direct subsidy scheme schools. It has been reported that according to one of the international kindergartens that the NET approached, the child has to wait for two to three years on the waiting list for admission to that kindergarten. It has also been reported that the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) has expressed concern that the shortage of international school places has reached a "crisis point", and it has urged the Government to set up a committee to ensure that schooling would be available for children of foreign investors and professionals. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it has assessed if the aforesaid situation constitutes indirect discrimination against the NCS child; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, of the details; if the assessment result is negative, the reasons for that; of the measures the Government has taken in promoting and publicising messages against racial discrimination in schools, and whether it has evaluated the effectiveness of the measures; if it has, of the details of the evaluation;

(b) whether it knows the number of NCS children who were schooled at home, as well as the total number of international school places for NCS students in the past three years; whether it has assessed if there is a shortage of international school places for NCS students; if the assessment result is in the affirmative, whether it has taken any measure including but not limited to setting a limit on the percentage of local students attending non-profit-making international schools applying for government assistance in the form of land grant or vacant school premises; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) given that the NET Scheme has been implemented by the Government in improving English learning and teaching in primary and secondary schools, whether it has evaluated the education needs of the children of NETs, who will settle in Hong Kong with their parents in the coming year; if it has, of the details including whether there will be sufficient number of international school places in accommodating their education needs; if there may not be sufficient school places, whether it has considered any measure to address their education needs; if it has, of the details;

(d) given that it has been reported that the waiting time for international school places is long, whether the Government has assessed if such a circumstance will discourage NETs to come to Hong Kong to teach; if it has, of the assessment result; and if the assessment result is in the affirmative, whether it will review the current policy of the provision of education by international schools; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(e) whether it has considered the possibility of adopting AmCham's proposal of setting up a committee to address the shortage problem of international school places, as well as the feasibility of such proposal; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Our reply to the Member's question concerning the provision of international school places for non-Chinese speaking (NCS) children is as follows:

(a) In the context of race discrimination, indirect discrimination may occur when a same requirement or condition is applied to a person and all other persons irrespective of their racial groups but (i) which is such that the proportion of persons of the same racial group of the first-mentioned person who can comply with the requirement or condition is considerably smaller than the proportion of persons not of the same racial group of that person who can comply with it; (ii) the requirement or condition cannot be shown to be justifiable irrespective of the race of the person to whom it is applied; (iii) that person suffers a detriment because he or she cannot comply with the requirement or condition.

     International schools provide students with a choice of non-local curricula, regardless of whether they are NCS or not.  There is no requirement or condition specially applied to NCS students and there is no requirement or condition which NCS students have considerably greater difficulty than other students to comply with.  There are seven kindergartens (KGs) operating non-local curriculum or non-local classes in New Territories West where the Native-speaking English teacher (NET)'s family resides and 14 such KGs in New Territories East.  Territory-wide, there are surplus KG places and the vacancy rate is about 18%.  As such, we do not see any ground for the case to constitute indirect discrimination against the NCS child.

     With the enactment of the Race Discrimination Ordinance, the Education Bureau (EDB) has issued a circular to schools and, in collaboration with the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), conducted briefings for schools and our staff, in which educational establishments were reminded of their responsibilities to make their best endeavours in supporting the teaching and learning of all their students irrespective of race, to create an accommodating environment for ethnic diversity in schools, to respect cultural and religious differences and to maintain communication with parents.  

     On the other hand, the EOC promotes anti-discrimination, including those on the ground of race, in schools through various programmes.  These include organising talks and youth mentorship programmes for students as well as producing training modules targeting teachers and students.  Schools also participate in EOC's Community Participating Funding Programme to develop projects promoting equal opportunities.  These programmes have been implemented smoothly and largely achieved their objectives with positive feedbacks from participants.  The EOC will continue to monitor the effectiveness of its promotional efforts in schools and through other channels.  

(b) To address the demand for international school places from overseas families living in Hong Kong, and families coming to Hong Kong for work or investment, the Administration has implemented various facilitation measures including allocating vacant school premises and greenfield sites for development of international schools, as well as facilitating in-situ expansion of existing international schools, in supporting the development of the international school sector.    

     We have allocated four vacant school premises and four greenfield sites between 2007 and 2009 for the expansion or development of international schools.  Over the past two years, we have approved applications from seven international schools for using vacant school premises as temporary campuses.  Recently, we have given in-principle support for the in-situ redevelopment of two existing international schools.  The above measures will provide a total of over 4 500 international school places progressively in the coming few years.  

     To ensure that the increase in international school places in the schools mentioned above could catch up with the increasing demand from non-local families, including those from children of NETs, we have imposed a requirement for successful operators being allocated greenfield sites and vacant premises to admit non-local students at no less than 70% of their overall student population.  

     According to the student enrolment survey conducted in September 2011, the 47 international schools in Hong Kong provided about 37 000 places and the overall utilisation rate is about 89%.  These places are open to all children including NCS children.  We do not have information on NCS children being schooled at home.  

(c) Guided by the principle of equal opportunities, we do not require applicants for NET posts to disclose their family status in the recruitment exercise, nor should the applicants' chance of appointment be affected by their need to bring along their school-age children to Hong Kong.  Moreover, NETs who choose to accept an appointment under the NET Scheme should be fully aware of the pay and benefits under the Scheme as well as the living situation of Hong Kong.  To our knowledge, NETs who come to Hong Kong with their children do not necessarily opt for international schools for their children.  In fact, some NETs do send their children to English-medium schools in the public sector (including schools under the Direct Subsidy Scheme).  We provide NETs with information on local education for NCS children through various channels, including EDB's webpage as well as liaison meetings between EDB and the Native English Speaking Teachers' Association.  EDB will provide placement and support services to NETs who choose public sector schools for their children.  

(d) It is the choice of individual NETs to send their children to international schools and EDB cannot guarantee their admission to these schools.  Since its introduction in 1998, the NET Scheme has successfully attracted quite a number of NETs of different nationalities to teach in Hong Kong.  Since the 2005/06 school year, we have introduced a Retention Incentive for eligible NETs to encourage them to continue their service in Hong Kong.  Recent statistics show that the wastage of NETs has stabilised.  

(e) We have been maintaining dialogue with the chambers of commerce, international schools and other concerned parties to keep track of the supply and demand of international school places and to support the development of the international school sector.  Issues relating to the provision of international school places have been raised at a number of forums including the International Business Committee chaired by the Chief Secretary for Administration with representation from various chambers of commerce, as well as the Business Advisory Facilitation Committee set up by the Financial Secretary and chaired by a non-official member from the business community with members including businessmen, academics, professionals and Legislative Council Members. We consider that these channels are effective in reflecting community views on the provision of international school.

     We have commissioned a consultancy study to stocktake the existing provision of international school places and project future demand and supply.  We will assess the long term provision of international school places taking into account views gauged from the above-mentioned channels and the outcome of the study.  Pending our assessment of the projected demand for international school places in the long run, we would consider the need for further facilitation measures to meet the more immediate development needs of international schools.  We would identify and plan for allocation of a few suitable vacant premises to facilitate school operators which seek to improve or expand their existing premises as far as possible.  We would launch an Expression of Interest exercise among international schools for vacant premises to ascertain their development needs and interests in the premises before conducting a school allocation exercise.  We will announce the timing of the exercise when we have confirmed the availability of the premises concerned.

Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:43


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