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Hong Kong - Education and Schools

Children must attend school once they are 6 years old. This is the compulsory age. Kindergarten is not compulsory to attend. However, many children attend nursery for half days from the age of two, and most attend Kindergarten from the age of three.

The types of school and ages in Hong Kong are as follows:

Age 2 - Nursery - Pre school education. The curriculum refers to this age group as N1.
Ages 3-5 - Kindergarten - Pre school education. The curriculum refers to this age group as K1-K3.
Ages 6-11 - Primary school (Junior school) - Primary education. The curriculum refers to this age group as P1-P6.
Ages 12-17 - High school - (Secondary school/ Middle school) The curriculum refers to this age group as S1-S6.
Age 18 - Local undergraduate scheme.

Hong Kong schools are divided into:

Government schools - These are known as comprehensives and they are run by the government.

Caput schools - Subsidised in accordance with the number of children who go to such schools.

Private schools - Private schools are privately run and funded by organisations. Such schools accept mostly local Chinese students and admissions favour academic ability.

Private International Schools - High tuition fees for students and with a mix of international students. Lessons are mostly taught in English, although some may be in other languages such as Japanese, French and German.

Aided school - One type of aided school is comprehensive subsidised. These schools are religious or charity based, and funded by the government.

Aided school- A second type of subsidised schools are grant schools, which are like comprehensive schools in that they are subsidised. These schools are run by charities and religious organisations and receive funding from the government through Codes of Aid.

English Schools Foundation - Schools to educate English speaking children. Tuition fees are lower than International schools and some receive financial support from the government. Funds are also raised by the Parent Teacher Association for facilities.

Direct Subsidy Scheme - These are schools run privately by non government organisations. Secondary and primary schools that attain high academic achievements are invited to join the DSS. They are allowed to choose their own curriculum, entry requirements and fees under certain restrictions.

Education in Hong Kong is generally of a very good standard. Schools are organised, have an importance and standing in the community and they have high expectations of their staff and students. Behaviour is excellent. A lot of emphasis and value is placed on education in Hong Kong and teachers are well respected. Expat teachers are very graciously accepted, and especially in local schools may find themselves being seen as somewhat of a celebrity. Whilst the quality of teaching in the US, UK and Hong Kong is of a similar level, it is appreciated and valued the most in Hong Kong.

Schools are pressurised and competitive in terms of academic expectations, but currently schools are looking for less emphasis being placed on constant exams; a shift from the US and UK. Hong Kong with its colonial roots had a curriculum and syllabus that shared some same features as the UK system. However, recent changes have modernised the curriculum and it is more in line with the US. The US applies the No Child Is Left Behind model wherein standardised testing occurs yearly. Hong Kong allows assessments for students regularly and tests in Primary 5+6. They also go on to study for HKDSE, the equivalent of the UK GCSE and American SATs. The US, UK and HK all share a similar approach to report cards as a form of monitoring behaviour and achievement.

In independent schools, like in US and the UK, extra classes and streams are put in place for children whose first language is English. Age groups and years are very much in line with English schools, with some schools even offering GCSEs and A-levels to study, which are part of the English education system. The UK system also uses Key Stages in primary schools, as does Hong Kong. All children wear uniform while in education in Hong Kong, and the same applies in the UK. This does not apply to the US. In the US and UK teachers must have a PCGE and equivalent so that they are qualified to teach. In Kindergarten/Early years they must hold PGCE specialising in early years. There has been some concern over teachers in Hong Kong not holding official qualifications. Routes into teaching are now into place easily for those working in schools where they can pursue degrees in education such as ‘Permitted Teacher’, wherein an individual has a degree but it is not specific to education. Through applying for PT they can study while working.

The average class size in Hong Kong for a primary school is 27. There is more money available through government funding in the UK and US for children with mild learning difficulties or disabilities in mainstream education that is not available in public education in Hong Kong. This is something of a taboo.

The enrollment process for ESF schools starts by children living in the local geographical region filling out the application form and providing the information desired. You can only enroll for these schools if you do not speak English. Enrollment can be extremely competitive and there are advantages to siblings of current students and children of alumni. If a student is chosen after the application process, they will be required to attend an interview, even if the child is of primary age. Online applications are required and the link is provided below.

Documents required are your child's HK ID, passport, date of birth and birth certificate number. All of these documents should be provided for a sibling if they have one too. Also needed is a photo on your computer of the child, the name and address of their old school and grades attained. You will also need your bank card in case you have to pay a registration fee.

Likewise, applying to International schools is very competitive. Both International and ESF schools have applications completed a year before school begins, usually the summer before. There is a range of criteria such as family background and academic achievements, and some require a deposit to be placed when applying, which could be 50% of the yearly school fee. Debentures are sold to businesses or individuals, and though they do not guarantee a school place, they do aid in being considered.

To apply, you need to fill in the online application at the link below. You will also need to pay around $1500-$2000 dollars for the application process. The documents you will need are: health history, admissions report, student questionnaire for grades 6-12, high school maths placement grades 9-12, progress reports for the last two years, SAT results (if from the US). Debenture information can then be provided if you have one. For students under P2 they are requested to attend an interview or assessment. Students above this age group must go to the school to sit an Independent School Entrance Exam (P2-Year 12). If your child is accepted, the final documentation involves the tuition fee being paid, grades 6-12 providing their visa stamp and copies of their details on their passport or HKID and then a physical examination. After this, all is completed.

The enrollment process for locals who want to send their child to government-run schools involves a quick application process listing their preferred schools. Aside from this they will always be assigned a school in their catchment area easily, as such schools are open to new students. It is not competitive because every child has a right to state-run free education, and space for new students is always found.

School hours for whole days are 8.30am - 3.30pm. For AM schools it is 7.30pm-1pm and for PM it is 1.30pm- 6.30pm. Many schools host Saturday lessons in the morning, usually consisting of English lessons from 9-30am-12.30pm, one hour per age group. Holidays are generally as follows but ESF and International schools have their own variations of holidays too, so it is worth checking with your specific school to make sure.

September 13th- Public Holiday
October 5th - Public Holiday
December 22nd - 2nd January -Christmas and New Year Holiday
January 23rd - 31st January - Chinese New Year Holiday
April 4th - April 14th Easter Holidays
May 1st - Public Holiday
July 2nd - Public Holiday
12th July - Summer Holiday begins

Extra-curricular activities are generally offered only by fee-paying schools. Government funded schools can host English lessons on Saturdays and support breakfast club but generally do not have extra curricular activities. In ESF and International schools there are many to choose from and these vary from school to school. Clubs may include volleyball, basketball, Brownies, Scouts, road safety, football, art, choir, craft, drama, chess, computer club, ballet, and martial arts. You will need to pay a yearly fee for such activities.

Students can drop out of school at 15 to pursue work. However, if they are evaluating where they want to go at this age in terms of higher education options they can choose to stay on at their school if they have a 6th form or transfer elsewhere. They can then achieve their Diploma of Secondary Education which is required to get into university. If they are in a private or international school, they will study and get their International Baccalaureate or A levels. Places in higher education depend on academic results achieved. Students who do not have English as their first language may need to take English courses such as IELTS or TOEFL as post secondary institutions; universities teach usually in English.

Hong Kong has 20 post secondary institutions who have sub-degree programmes on offer. Examples of these self-funded institutions are Hong Kong Art School and The Hong Kong institute of Technology. Students can learn vocational tertiary subjects and work in the community in placements. They can achieve sub degrees, which are half undergraduate degrees, and either continue into work, or study abroad and then try to gain a full degree elsewhere.

Very recently students who complete three years of junior and senior education (3+3+4) have become eligible to apply for a four-year university course in Hong Kong and can go through the application to attend university for academic study. There are publicly funded degree-awarding local universities like The Chinese University of Hong Kong and self financing local degree awarding institutions such as Tung Wah College. Available at these universities are undergraduate and postgraduate degrees such as law in PCLL, PHD, Masters, PDGE/ EdG etc. Many universities offer UK qualifications. Some students from Hong Kong travel to and study their full degrees in the UK, US, Australia and so on, as they attend these universities as international students. Some attend partner universities in an exchange system, going abroad for one year's study, and others can go for summer courses. In Hong Kong undergraduate degrees last four years.

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