A Guide to Education & International Schools in Hong Kong
Another one of notable differences between public and private schooling is the education culture.
Public schools in Hong Kong are well-known for putting a lot of pressure on students and not all expat parents approve of this strict approach. Private international schools, on the other hand, have adapted a more Western culture of education with more relaxed curricula. Luckily, no matter which option expat parents opt for, they can expect high-quality schooling and a possibility to choose from a variety of best schools and higher education institutions.
In this section, we also touch upon the system of daycare and kindergarten, education costs, and schools where you can brush up on your Cantonese knowledge.
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How is the Education System in Hong Kong?
The education system in Hong Kong is publicly funded. All 12 years of education, from primary to senior secondary school (ages 6 through 18), is free for students attending public schools.
Public schools make up the majority of schools in Hong Kong. They are either run by the government or a charitable or a religious organization. Thus, finding a Catholic or Protestant school in Hong Kong should not be a problem.
Types of Schools in Hong Kong Description Government Public schools; run and funded by the government; free. Aided Public schools; run by charitable or religious organizations, funded by government (most common type); free. Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) Private schools subsidized by the government; not free. Caput Schools Public schools partly subsidized by the government; not free. Private Schools Privately run schools aimed at Chinese students; admittance is based on educational excellence; not free. Private International Schools Privately run schools aimed at international students; high admittance fees. English Schools Foundation Private schools partly subsidized by the government; aimed at English-speaking students; not free.
The main difference between public and private schools are fees and curricula. Public schools in Hong Kong are free, while admittance to private ones will require a fee. As the government cannot regulate the curricula in private schools, it often differs from the standard education approach. However, some institutions (e.g.: DSS) still have to prepare their students for the same final examination.
What Is Education System Like in Hong Kong?
When talking about the Hong Kong school system, it is important to note that it has undergone some major changes in the last years. Notorious for its competitiveness, it was reformed to put less pressure on students. The mandatory primary and junior secondary school exams are not part of the curriculum anymore. However, the highly-demanding culture still remains, driving many students to the verge of mental breakdown.
Facts About Hong Kong Education System
Education in Hong Kong is free, and school is compulsory from between ages 6 to 15 (primary and junior secondary schools). Children in public schools in Hong Kong attend primary schools for six years, followed by three years of junior secondary education, and another three years of senior secondary education.
Education Length Ages Type School Year Kindergarten 3 years 3-6 Voluntary Sept – June Primary 6 years 6-12 Mandatory Sept – July Junior Secondary 3 years 13-15 Mandatory Sept – July Senior Secondary 3 years 16-18 Selective Sept – July (year 1-2) Aug – Feb (year 3)
After completing the 12-year program and taking the final exam, students are granted a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE).
Grading system for HKDSE HKDSE Grade Western Equivalent Meaning 5** A* Top of the Class 5* A/A* Excellent 5 A Good 4 B/C Adequate 3 D/E Pass 2-1 F Fail
The grading system in Hong Kong universities is based on a 4-point system:
GRADE (NUMBER) GRADE (LETTER) MEANING 4.3-3.7 A Excellent 3.6-2.7 B Good 2.6-1.7 C Adequate 1.7-1.0 D Pass <1.0 F Fail
School in Hong Kong starts around 7:30 to 8:00 and last until about 14:30 or 15:00.
Classes in public schools are usually taught in Chinese with a possibility of English as a teaching language being integrated later on in the curriculum (secondary school). Many private schools also operate in Chinese; however, private international schools usually teach in English.
Daycare and Kindergarten
In general, good childcare opportunities and excellent kindergartens and pre-schools are easy to come by in Hong Kong. Children usually start kindergarten at age 3 or 6. However, it is not mandatory. Depending on your preference, you can usually choose whether your child will attend kindergarten on a full-day or half-day basis.
For children under the age of 3, you can apply for a spot in a nursery class, a childcare center, or you can hire someone to take care of them at home.
The curricula in kindergarten vary from one institution to another, although the government recognizes the child-centered educational approach. The objective of this style of education is to teach children how to be socially aware, cultivate good habits, and be curious about their surroundings. Common subjects are language, early mathematics, physical health, science and technology, self and society, and art. They are taught through active involvement, play, and encouragement.
All kindergartens in Hong Kong are run privately. Some of them are non-profit-making, while others are independent institutions. The fees for kindergarten will depend on which option you choose.
Non-profit kindergartens are now under the Free Quality Kindergarten Education scheme that allows all children to get pre-school education for free. The scheme only offers the half-day option for kids ages 3 to 6.
Kindergarten fees depend on the grade, whether you opt for full or half-days, and the location of the kindergarten. The average kindergarten costs are hard to determine as it can be anywhere between 7,000 to 70,000 HKD (900 to 9,000 USD) per year or even more than that.
Talk to other international parents with young children in Hong Kong
Talk to other international parents with young children in Hong Kong
Primary and Secondary Schools
In Hong Kong, primary schools run on morning, afternoon, or whole-day schedules. The morning and afternoon schedules were created to accommodate the number of pupils attending primary schools and to avoid overcrowding.
The admissions to public primary (also known as elementary) schools in Hong Kong is divided into two stages: Discretionary Places Admission and Central Allocation.
Primary One Admission System Discretionary Places Central Allocation Priority Points System Comprises 30% of accepted students. Comprises 20% of accepted students. Comprises 50% of accepted students. Priority is given to children of school employees or kids who already have siblings studying at the school. Selection of students is based on a set point system. Parents make an “unrestricted choice” and select up to 3 public schools (comprises 10% of accepted applicants for Central Allocation). Parents choose from a specific network of schools of the area they live in (comprises 90% of accepted applicants for Central Allocation).
If you do not know which school to choose from, the Hong Kong government provides you with a comprehensive list of all (public and private) primary schools with all the necessary information. It tells you the length and the number of classes, the school’s educational approach, the qualifications and experience of teachers, school costs, and many other useful details.
If your child attends a public primary school in Hong Kong, you may be asked to pay certain fees. These school costs might include a payment for the Parent-Teacher Association, Tong Fai, and other approved charges. Tong Fai is a payment introduced in public schools after schooling in Hong Kong became free. In most cases, overall fees for public schools should not exceed 500 HKD (65 USD) per year.
Parents who want their children to attend private schools will face a different application system and will be charged higher fees. One year in a private primary school in Hong Kong costs around 40,000 HKD (5,100 USD).
If your child attends a public primary school, they will be allocated to a certain secondary school once they graduate. Parents of children that attend private or DSS primary schools have to apply for secondary schools themselves.
Secondary school (in some countries referred to as high school) education in Hong Kong is split into two parts: junior secondary and senior secondary schooling. Both of them lasts three years and while junior secondary education is mandatory, the choice of whether or not one should attend a senior secondary school is up to the student and their capabilities.
The secondary school allocation system is similar to the way applicants are accepted to primary schools in Hong Kong and the process is divided into two stages: Discretionary Places and Central Allocation. However, the ratio of accepted students differs.
Secondary School Places Allocation System Discretionary Places Central Allocation Comprises 30% of accepted students. Comprises 70% of accepted students Under this plan, it is possible to apply for 2 secondary schools. Under this plan, it is possible to apply for 3 secondary schools from any school network (comprises 10% of accepted applicants for Central Allocation). Under this plan, it is possible to apply for 30 secondary schools from your local school network(comprises 90% of accepted applicants for Central Allocation).
In some secondary schools, certain subjects become available in English as a teaching language. To find out whether it is an option in a school near where you reside, check out the list of Hong Kong’s secondary schools. There you can also find detailed information about the size of the school, the teachers, the curricula, the teaching methods, and many other important details.
When it comes to school costs, public secondary schools in Hong Kong are mostly free, with some additional charges. The possible charges are Parent-Teacher Association fees, Student Association Membership fee, and Tong Fai for senior secondary school attendees. In total, the payments should not exceed 500 HKD (65 USD) per year.
For kids transitioning from primary to secondary education, many schools will organize events to help them get to know the new environment.
Senior Secondary Schools
Transitioning from junior to senior secondary schools should not be complicated. Many schools that run junior programs ensure that the graduating students have a sufficient number of places in their senior programs as well.
Students that do not wish to carry on with mainstream education at this stage can choose to study a vocational training program instead.
Students that opt for senior secondary education are required to study four core subjects: Chinese and English languages, mathematics, and liberal studies. In addition to that, they can select three extra subjects offered by the school’s curriculum (history, biology, physics, etc.) and study an additional language and applied learning subjects (applied science, business management, services, etc.).
At the end of three-year-long senior education, students take the final exam that usually includes the above-mentioned core subjects as well as some additional subjects that student chooses to take. The examinations come in a few stages and involve both written and oral exams. Students also write papers to be evaluated on their language skills and get a grade for their applied learning subjects before they get their diploma.
When the exams are passed, the students receive a Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) that allows them to move on to higher education stages.
Support for Newly Arrived Students
Hong Kong pays specific attention to newly-arrived kids that need to be introduced to the local schooling system. Parents who wish for their children to attend one of the mainstream schools have a few options that can help their kids integrate. These are:
- Initiation Programme – a six-months-long (September-March) full-time program that uses both academic and non-academic elements in order for English speaking students to learn Chinese (or vice versa). The program is free and runs at a few schools around Hong Kong.
- Induction Programme – a 60-hour-long part-time program that runs daytime, after school, or during weekends, depending on the needs of children. The curriculum comprises of lessons in Chinese and English, an introduction to the traditions of the local community and Hong Kong’s education system, and communication and learning skills. The program is free of charge and is run at a variety of schools around Hong Kong.
- School-based supplementary language classes – a program run by public and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools and funded by the School-Based Support Scheme Usually the curriculum of these classes depends on specific schools.
In addition to the local public schools, a respected private school system with many different international schools has long been established. Many expats decide to send their kids there because of the typically more westernized curriculum. Recently they are becoming more and more popular with the local Chinese pupils as well.
Some of the popular schools in Hong Kong for international students are:
- French International School of Hong Kong
- German-Swiss International School of Hong Kong
- Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong
- Christian Alliance International School
- Canadian International School of Hong Kong
- Australian International School Hong Kong
- Schools of English Schools Foundation
These are just a few examples of the possibilities. The Hong Kong education system offers a variety of international schools including both primary and secondary school options.
The school year in international schools usually starts in August. In order to be sure your child gets a spot in the school of your preference you should start your application process one year in advance.
Each international school often has its own set of admission requirements, so make sure to contact the preferred education institution directly. Be aware that some schools might give priority to students of specific nationality (e.g.: French schools might prefer French students), siblings of already existing students, or children of the staff.
One of the advantages of sending your child to an international school is that classes are usually smaller than in local public schools, and, generally, not as competitive. On the downside, the biggest disadvantage of international schools is simply their cost. While public schools are mostly free for all students, international school tuition fees can be anything from 100,000 to 200,000 HKD (12,800 to 25,600 USD) or more in annual tuition fees, depending on the school and the grade your child attends.
If your kid is familiar with the Chinese language and you want them to become fluent and write in hànzì (Chinese letters), you may find that the level of Mandarin and Cantonese taught in international schools is not adequate. Only few of the international schools are actually bilingual, so a local public school might be the better choice in such a case.
The universities in Hong Kong have recently developed excellent reputations both within Hong Kong’s borders and beyond. The University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong in particular were awarded top spots in international university rankings. Furthermore, the government is currently devoting a lot of its attention and resources to strengthening the region as an education hub. Therefore, universities in Hong Kong might be a more than a reasonable choice if your children want to pursue a college education while staying in Hong Kong.
All of the universities and other institutions of higher education in Hong Kong offer internationally recognized degrees to their students. That includes bachelor’s and postgraduate degrees, with both research-based programs and post-grad courses. Undergraduate degrees in Hong Kong usually last four years. However, you can still find courses lasting just two or three years as well.
Most university programs are taught in English, so there is no need to worry about your Chinese language skills. However, be sure to research the details about the course of your choice.
How Much Does It Cost to Study in Hong Kong?
The price of higher education varies from one university to another depending on the course and on whether you are a local or not. Locals can expect to pay around 40,000 to 45,000 HKD (5,100 to 5,750 USD) for a year in an undergraduate program. University tuition fee for international students can be double, triple, or even quadruple that – 80,000 to 165,000 HKD (10,200 to 21,100 USD) per academic year.
Post-graduation studies for international applicants in government supported universities cost around 40,000 HKD (5,100 USD) per year, while locals can be eligible to avoid paying tuition fees in general.
Universities can charge you an application fee of around 350 HKD (45 USD). Some higher education institutions require the students to pay a non-refundable deposit upon acceptance that ranges from 10,000 to 80,000 HKD (1,300 to 10,250 USD). On the other hand, a lot of universities also offer scholarship programs that international students might be eligible for.
What are the Main Institutions of Higher Education in Hong Kong?
The following schools are funded publicly by the so-called University Grants Committee (UGC). The UGC is a non-statutory advisory committee which supports the government on matters concerning both funding and development of universities in Hong Kong.
- City University of Hong Kong – faculties in business, arts and social sciences, science and engineering, and veterinary medicine and schools in creative media, energy and environment, and law.
- Hong Kong Baptist University – faculties in arts, science, and social sciences, and schools in business, Chinese medicine, communication, and visual arts.
- Lingnan University – programs in arts, humanities, business, and social sciences.
- The Chinese University of Hong Kong – faculties in arts, business administration, education, engineering, law, medicine, science, and social science.
- The Hong Kong Institute of Education – faculties in humanities, education, and liberal arts and social sciences.
- The Hong Kong Polytechnic University – programs in applied sciences, health sciences, business, computing, engineering, construction and environment, fashion, design, tourism, languages, and social sciences.
- The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology – schools in science, engineering, business and management, and humanities and social science.
- The University of Hong Kong – faculties in architecture, arts, business and economics, dentistry, education, engineering, law, medicine, science, and social sciences)
- Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (receives public funding but is not a university according to Hong Kong law, offers programs in art that usually last two years)
All in all, about one third of all students in Hong Kong receive some kind of undergraduate education. In addition to the universities in Hong Kong financed by the UGC, there exists self-financing academic institutions that offer higher education:
- Caritas Institute of Higher Education – programs in art, social sciences, and nursing.
- Centennial College – programs in art, accounting, and social sciences.
- Chu Hai College of Higher Education – departments in arts and social sciences, business, and science and engineering.
- Gratia Christian College – programs in business, social sciences, and early education
- Hang Seng Management College – departments in business, communication, decision sciences, and social sciences and humanities
- HKCT Institute of Higher Education – programs in business, social sciences, and accounting.
- Hong Kong Nang Yang College of Higher Education – programs in administration and social work.
- Hong Kong Shue Yan University – departments in humanities, social sciences, and commerce.
- Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong – departments in design and environment, hospitality and management, and science and technology.
- The Open University of Hong Kong – departments in arts and social sciences, business and administration, education and languages, nursing and health, and science and technology.
- Yew Chung College of Early Childhood Education
Other Degrees and Courses
There is a number of locally-accredited institutions and universities in Hong Kong offering sub-degree courses such as associate degrees and higher diplomas. You can find more information on these courses by browsing the Information Portal for Accredited Post-Secondary Programs provided by the Hong Kong government.
There are also a great variety of distance-learning classes and other courses offering non-local qualifications. To create a better overview of the numerous courses popping up everywhere and to maintain certain quality standards, the Hong Kong Education Bureau requires all providers of such non-local courses to file an official registration. The Education Bureau keeps an up-to-date list of registered non-local courses that fulfill the government’s requirements.
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While English is one of the main business languages in Hong Kong, you should not pass on the opportunity to brush up on your Chinese skills at a local language school. It will not only help you in your day to day life, but show your colleagues, employers, and business partners your willingness to integrate into their culture.
Before you start looking into Hong Kong’s language schools, you will have to decide on which of the many Chinese languages you wish to learn. The main two options are between Chinese Mandarin, the official language of China, and Cantonese, the main dialect of Hong Kong. Our article on learning Cantonese in Hong Kong should help you make up your mind on which language you should learn. There you can also find information on language schools and their fees.