If you’re moving to Hong Kong with children or if you’re looking to raise a family in the area, it is absolutely imperative to look into the standard of education and your education options before you relocate. By and large, the standard of education in the region is very high. Unfortunately, given Hong Kong’s impressive population density, it may come as little surprise that there are a lot of people all vying for places at the best schools. We’ve put together a brief guide in order to help you get your head around expat schooling in Hong Kong. If, however, you need any further information or clarification, please don’t hesitate to contact our Hong Kong team today.
Preschools and Kindergarten in Hong Kong
Because Hong Kongers generally expect that there will be a domestic helper to assist with children, there are no full time day care options in Hong Kong. As a result, preschool or kindergarten is usually your best option for younger kids aged 3-6. There is a wide variety of programs are available such as Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and EYES among others, so make sure you look into these before you make your decision. The majority of Hong Kong’s kindergartens are privately owned, meaning that they can be quite competitive, especially on the Kowloon side and in the New Territories. This being said, it can be much easier to find a place at a kindergarten space on Hong Kong Island. Because of this competitiveness, preschools and kindergartens sometimes conduct selection interviews to test the child’s social and cognitive skills. This also means that you should be aware that if you can get a place at the kindergarten of your choice, the tuition fees here can be quite substantial.
International Schools in Hong Kong
Private international schools are in constant demand in Hong Kong. The majority of these schools follow an IB, British or American curriculum, though as with many countries worldwide, there are international schools which teach a foreign curriculum in their native language – the German Swiss International School Hong Kong (GSIS) and the Lycée Français International (French International School) being just two examples.
Because of the limited number of places at Hong Kong’s English international schools, enrolment into these schools can be a bit of a challenge, with the most difficult being enrolments for 6-10 year-olds. As a way of combatting this, some international companies try to reserve places at the most competitive international schools as a way of attracting the best talent. If you’re thinking about moving to Hong Kong, it’s worth checking if your company has a scheme like this, also known as a “Debenture”, in place.
To give your children the best chance of getting accepted to your schools of choice, it is advisable to apply as early as possible. Not even a full calendar year is not too early when it comes to applying for schools in Hong Kong. This is because the application process is quite lengthy and often involves an interview and an assessment. Fortunately, if one of your children is accepted it can lead to a “sibling priority status” for your other children, giving them a higher priority on the waiting list.
Home Schooling in Hong Kong
Technically, home schooling in Hong Kong is illegal, though expatriate families can present their case to the government in order to receive special permission. Depending on where you move to in Hong Kong, there may already be a support network for this in place – do your research before you travel if home schooling is an option you would like to pursue for your kids.
Public Schools in Hong Kong
Generally speaking, very few non-local kids attend private schools in Hong Kong as Cantonese is the prominent language; parents and students who do not speak the language can have trouble communicating with the school as a result. While some expat families over the years have sent their preschool and kindergarten kids to local schools to absorb the language, this can extremely difficult, if not impossible for older kids.
Hong Kong’s education system has recently been reformed and now follows what is known as the 334 Scheme. This basically means that local students would attend three years each of junior and senior secondary school, followed by four years of university. While the standard of education at these schools is fairly high, it’s worth noting that because of the competitive nature of these schools, many schools advertise English instruction schemes. Make sure you do your research before you enrol in one of these schools though, as the majority of classes could still be taught in Cantonese.
It’s also worth noting that as with many Asian countries, Hong Kong places a huge emphasis on quality education. This emphasis often manifests in the form of private tutoring, with students taking private lessons and music lessons before and after school.
Although Hong Kong is known for competitive school entry, there are places available and we encourage parents to keep an open mind during the enrolment process. The most important consideration is whether a particular school is a good fit for your child, and if you have any concerns in this area we would be more than happy to help. There are many options to explore and looking outside the most well-known schools for other high quality education opportunities is always recommended.