The Hong Kong school system is one of the most competitive in the world. Students attending the so-called Grant Schools, Hong Kong’s elite secondary schools, receive a high-quality education and often enter the world’s top-notch universities without difficulty. There’s, however, another side of the coin too: Students whose examination results at the end of their primary education are not up to par are left with the places at sub-standard secondary schools in Hong Kong.
Schools in Hong Kong are publicly funded. The main language of instruction at most of Hong Kong’s schools is Chinese. A great number of expats, however, prefer to send their children to an international school, which offer a different curriculum – and usually charge steep tuition fees. Mainly, this is due to the language barrier. Expat children who did not attend a Hong Kong kindergarten are often simply not able to follow class work in local schools and feel more comfortable in an international environment. However, some expat parents also feel that they do not agree with the workload and the competitiveness their kids would deal with at many public schools in Hong Kong, despite the great opportunities of finding a job in Hong Kong later on.
Following a prolonged public debate, the Hong Kong government administered a reform of the education system. The government has also reacted to the high number of children coming to Hong Kong from abroad and established international programs to help them adjust to the public school system. This article aims to give you an overview of the school system, the ongoing reform, and the requirements to consider if you decide to enroll your child in one of the local schools in Hong Kong.
Public schools in Hong Kong are organized quite similarly to the British system. Children attend primary schools for 6 years, followed by three years of junior secondary education and another two years of senior secondary education. Finally, those students who want to go to university attend another two-year course leading to advanced level examinations. The government runs some public schools in Hong Kong and subsidizes a large number of others, which are organized by charitable associations and religious organizations.
Students start primary school in Hong Kong at the age of six. Due to limited capacities, primary school students are usually divided into two groups: One group attends classes in the morning, the other in the afternoon. However, some schools in Hong Kong have started to offer all-day programs as well. At the end of their primary education, children in Hong Kong take their first important examinations. The results of these tests determine which secondary school they may attend.
Secondary schools in Hong Kong are categorized into three bands according to their academic standards. Band 1 schools have the highest academic standards and the best reputation. Through a centralized admission system, students receive places at different schools according to their exam grades. Only those who do outstandingly well are granted a place in the best secondary schools in Hong Kong.
Junior secondary school is compulsory and remains free for all students. However, those who choose to attend a senior secondary school have to pay a certain tuition fee. As this fee is standardized and heavily subsidized by the government, it is not nearly as high as what private schools charge their students.
Senior secondary school prepares students for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE), which they have to pass in order to graduate. A large number of students go on to an additional two-year course and then take the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination (HKALE), which will enable them to go to university. Undergraduate programs at Hong Kong’s universities take another 3 years to complete.
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