The Hong Kong government allots more than 20% of its government spending to education and this has helped the HKSAR develop an excellent education system that is renowned all over the world.
Local ‘Public’ Schools
The school year in Hong Kong kicks off with an autumn term and ends with a summer term. Students have breaks for Christmas, Chinese New Year, Easter as well as mid-term. Class sizes in Hong Kong tend to be larger than those in Western countries and it is not uncommon to have 35 – 45 students in a class. The admission process of these local schools has been discussed in detail in the ‘Public school’ section. These local public schools have no fees associated with them.
The structure of the education system in Hong Kong is based on that of the United Kingdom and students attend three years of Kindergarten usually from the age of three. Thereafter they enter primary school and this school period extends over six years (from P1 to P6). During the primary school years the students sit two major examinations which are held every three years in P5 and P6. These examinations help determine which secondary school the student will attend. Most of the primary schools in Hong Kong have a Chinese medium of instruction and their curriculum covers subjects like Social Studies, Science, Chinese, English, Mathematics, Music, Arts and Physical Education.
Secondary school is divided into junior and senior secondary school (Form 1, 2, 3 and Form 4 and 5). The majority of local secondary schools adopted Chinese medium of instruction (CMI) after the Handover in 1997. The Hong Kong secondary schools are also divided into three Bands according to academic prestige. The Band 1 secondary schools are the most prestigious and sought after schools that attract the best students. In Hong Kong, students are expected to attend school from primary through to junior secondary. Only students who are desirous of attending university go on to senior secondary which is also known as Matriculation.
Secondary school students in Hong Kong also sit two examinations namely the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Exam (HKCEE) which is administered to Form 5 students and the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE) which is equivalent to the British ‘A’ levels program and is administered to Form 7 students. The HKALE scores are the deciding factor in the university admissions process.
Educational reforms which were undertaken in 2009 now stipulate that secondary school education should be completed in six years rather than the present seven years and undergraduate programs at Hong Kong’s universities should extend over four years instead of the present three. These changes are due to come about in 2012 and they will reform the undergraduate university education in Hong Kong which will be in line with undergraduate degrees that are offered in other parts of the world.
Hong Kong’s school system has historically been very rigid and exam oriented. However from 2000 to 2006, Hong Kong’s schools underwent a major overhaul in curriculum, methods of assessment, and language of instruction. This overhaul turned the focus away from exam oriented study to more well rounded development which now includes aspects like moral and civil education and intellectual, physical and aesthetic growth and development. Thus, Hong Kong’s education system now includes subjects like community service as well as career related experience, issues which were not given much importance previously.
Aside from the local (government owned and operated), religious and international schools, the Hong Kong school system is also made up of the direct subsidy schools which belong to the the English Schools Foundation which was established by the Hong Kong government in 1967 to provide a “modern liberal education” through the medium of English for non-Chinese families in Hong Kong. Today this network of 21 international kindergartens, primary, secondary and private schools offer a curriculum which is compatible to global standards. Admissions to ESF schools are largely based on a residential zonal basis excepting in the two private schools run by the ESF namely the Renaissance College and the Discovery College.
Details about the admission process for ESF schools including the corporate surety program whereby companies can secure admission for their employee’s children during the summer months is available at the website of the ESF at http://www.esf.edu.hk
Students who opt for international schools in Hong Kong do not take the public examinations. Most international schools in Hong Kong offer the widely popular International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum though there several country-specific schools which offer a country-specific curriculum like the Australian, British and the American schools.
Hong Kong is home to eight universities and several other tertiary institutions which don’t have university status. These tertiary institutions offer a range of programs including undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, as well as associate degrees and higher diplomas.