All students in Hong Kong are entitled to 12 years of free public education, including full-time vocational courses for students who choose not to pursue academic-oriented upper secondary education. This was upgraded from nine years as of the 2008-2009 school year; students are now entitled to three years of senior secondary education in public sector schools. The government divides schools that receive public funding into four categories: government schools, which are fully funded and run by the government; aided schools, which are guaranteed government funding but are run by voluntary groups; direct subsidy scheme schools, which are largely government-funded but enjoy greater autonomy than the first two categories; and private schools, which may receive land leases and small grants from the government. Schools in the first two categories provide free education through secondary school, and must use the government-recommended curriculum. Hong Kong spends 4.4% of its GDP on education, lower than the OECD average of 5.9%.
School Management and Organization
The Education Bureau (EDB) outlines the administration policies of government and aided schools for each school year. This guide is extensive and detailed, covering topics ranging from how curriculum should be taught to the recommended first aid items for a school clinic to how to handle school income and operate school bank accounts. The school principals are responsible for following and implementing these guidelines, although there are also four Regional Education Offices (REOs) that provide support to administrators. REOs also are responsible for providing leadership on school development (improving or establishing schools) in their regions, handling the closure or reprovisioning of schools, and organizing regional teacher networking opportunities in order to disseminate best practices.
Accountability and Incentive Systems
Though Hong Kong does not officially rank its schools, they are held accountable to the public through their public assessment results, which are made up of student performance on a variety of national and school-based tests. These results are typically published in the media. The media also publishes other statistics relevant to school performance. Multiple times each year, newspapers will publish statistics and information on the number of teachers who have not met language proficiency requirements (Hong Kong teachers must be proficient in both Chinese and English) or who are teaching in fields in which they did not receive formal training.
The Education Bureau (EDB) has developed a Quality Assurance for Schools program, with a specific, publicly available framework, self-assessment tools for administrators, and circulars providing information to parents and educators. Because roughly 50% of students choose to apply to government or aided schools of their choice rather than attend the government or aided school in their neighborhood, accountability is an important component of Hong Kong’s educational system.
Parent and Community Participation
Parent and community participation is an integral part of Hong Kong’s reformed education system. When the government decided to overhaul the system in 1999, they invited more than 800 community leaders to a meeting in order to weigh in on proposed policies. This prompted such a public outpouring of dissatisfaction with the education system that the Education Commission not only used this feedback to direct their reforms but encouraged every school to have a “tree of hope” on which students can hang tags stating, “I have a hope: Education should be …” Following this meeting, a document was published detailing the new educational aims. The Education Commission invited public commentary and received more than 40,000 suggestions. Thus education reform and parent and community participation have been, and remain, intertwined throughout the ongoing reform process.
Parents are also invited to participate in their children’s schooling through volunteering, meeting with teachers, attending school informational sessions, and helping their students with their schoolwork. A Hong Kong Council of Social Service study from 2010 found that 42% of local and 55% of ethnic minority parents reported helping with their child’s homework “every single day,” and 75% of local and 89% of ethnic minority parents reported that they offer to help. In the same poll, 38% of ethnic minority parents reported “frequently discussing post-high school plans” with their children. When asked about their education goals for their children, 62.1% of ethnic minority parents said they wanted their child to go as far as he or she could; an additional 31.9% said they expected their children to complete college or university. These numbers were essentially reversed for local parents, with 63.9% expecting their children to complete college or university, and 32.8% wanting their child to go as far as he or she could. Only 1.1% of local and 0.5% of ethnic minority parents reported that they expected their child to enter vocational training.