Public schools in Hong Kong are fully funded by the government and offer free education to all children. The government has implemented language and cultural support programmes for non-Chinese-speaking children, which can ease the transition somewhat. However, this remains a difficult path, especially for older children with no existing knowledge of Cantonese.
Families in Hong Kong for the long haul may benefit from the cultural integration local schools offer – however, most expats opt for international schools instead, particularly those on a limited-term assignment.
There’s a wide selection of private schools to choose from in Hong Kong, many of which teach the national curriculum through a religious lens.
Expat parents should look into Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) schools. These are private schools that receive a grant from the government but are able to set their own curriculum, fees and entry requirements. However, DSS schools are bound to adhere to certain national standards with regards to the school’s facilities and the qualifications of teachers. Fees can be high, depending on the school, but are generally still much lower than international schools.
Cantonese is the language of instruction for most DSS schools. However, some teach partly or entirely in English. A common approach is to arrange class groups according to language proficiency, with some groups being taught in Cantonese and others in English. Some subjects – such as Chinese Language, Chinese History and Chinese Literature – are more likely to be taught in Cantonese only.
There is a large number of international schools in Hong Kong which teach the curriculum of their founding country or other globally recognised programmes like the International Baccalaureate (IB). The American and British curricula are taught by many international schools but other countries are also represented, such as Canada, France and Germany. The language of instruction will generally be English or the home language of the school’s country of origin.
Fees for international schools are typically high, and families with an expat package that does not include a school subsidy may find the cost of international schools in Hong Kong to be prohibitively expensive. That said, parents sending their children to international schools can expect a good return on their investment in the form of excellent facilities, highly qualified teachers and smaller class sizes.
Because of the large expat population in Hong Kong, international schools are often oversubscribed. For this reason, it's important to start the application process as early as possible.