November 18, 2003


JC has been accepted into a top-notch private school here for next year, starting September 2004. We like to think it is because of her intellectual prowess, ballet skills and her long hair. The reality is it is about money.

Like many things in Hong Kong money talks, loudly. The school system is no exception. This particular school has a long waiting list: there are 200 names for 60 places for the entry class of 2004/5. Given we only just got around to getting JC's name on the list, we could be forgiven for feeling a little despondant on her chances of getting in. But nothing is that simple here.

All private schools (and clubs) work on a system of debentures. These are large payments made as a bond for the time the student is at the school. Effectively they are interest free loans and give the school working capital at cheap rates. There are two kinds of debenture. There are the individual and the corporate. The individual ones are about 1/4 of the cost of the corporate ones. So now the school has an incentive: economically they want as many corporate debenture students as possible. The fees are the same after that and are horrendously high. But getting into the school in the first place depends on these debentures. This particular school has rules, saying only 1/2 the students can be on corporate debentures. Usually corporate debentures are funded by companies covering their expat employees. The other side of all of this is if you have a corporate debenture you can skip the waiting list. So long as out of the 60 places in the entry class there are less than 30 taken by corporate debenture kids, then automatically my child is moved into the class.

This leads to a conflict. Of course I want my girls to get the best possible education. But effectively we are the beneficiaries of an injustice. Why should I be able to get my girl into school faster than someone who's had a name down since birth? I just happen to be lucky enough that my employer covers the cost for me. No, I won't say no to the place on some principle. That's the way the cards are dealt and that's it. But it won't stop me from feeling typical middle-class angst about it.

What it does lead to is an interesting question. Is it right to take advantage of a situation, even where it involves an injustice or a wrong? Especially if the situation has arisen due to factors outside of one's control? The short answer, in this case, is yes. But I am sure that it is not always the case.

Another philosphical conundrum brought to you by Hong Kong's schooling system.

Posted by Simon at November 18, 2003 11:02 AM | TrackBack

I was faced with similar when I went to university in the U.S. I found out that I could receive extra stipends to help me pay my way through, since I am female and an Asian-American (my father is Japanese). Did I check that box? Yup. Have to admit I did. Did I use the extra monies? Yup to that, too. And it was a bit unfair, since white guys seemed to constantly get the short end of the stick.

Does that mean I have compromised my principles in a burst of bourgeosie-sympatico? Probably, but then I sold my soul ages ago.

Don't feel bad about how the system works. It's just the way it is.

Posted by: Helen at November 18, 2003 04:36 PM

I don't that you need to worry too much about the principles. Do whatever you have to do to give your daughters the best education that is available.

A well-known left-wing politician in Britain recently found her principles came into conflict with her desire to give her son a good education, and guess what won out?,9061,1078175,00.html

The local education system isn't really an option for your kids, so don't worry about it!

Posted by: Chris at November 18, 2003 07:36 PM

When faced with excessive drill work in a Hong Kong public school and a somewhat decent education that is university-focused in a private school, take the private school. until public schools here undergo some surefire change.

Posted by: d fresh at November 18, 2003 08:10 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Jew Simon