Tag Archives: scmp

We can’t fund no education: Hong Kong’s ‘screw you’ to foreign parents

23 Apr

HK clasroomEducation: another depressing postscript to the story of Hong Kong’s sad decline as a world class city. I’ve probably ranted about this in the past, but was recently reminded about the Hong Kong government’s woefully inept decision to phase out subsidies for non-local kids by a new feature in the SCMP.

It all revolves around the government’s English Schools Foundation subsidy – a HK$238m (£18m) annual sum which helps make schooling for kids not fluent in the local lingo affordable for their parents. The alternative is to send them (and there are over 15,000 of them) to local schools – where lessons are taught in Cantonese – or obscenely expensive international schools which all but the super rich cannot afford.

The article explains how one foreign HK resident – Amanda Chapman, who ironically is a teacher herself – is preparing to leave the SAR after 16 years because of the difficulty of finding a suitable, or affordable, school for her bairn.

“English-language education in Hong Kong is increasingly becoming a privilege exclusive to those who can afford it,” she told the SCMP.

“If you don’t speak Cantonese, then you have no choice but to go to international schools. And the government refuses to acknowledge there is a problem and so does nothing about it.”

No, no, no

Her story is echoed all over the former colony. This borderline racist stance from the government has also been criticised in the past for doing little to help even those wanting to integrate more fully into Hong Kong life, especially ethnic minorities.

Although the Education Bureau lists 83 fee-paying, so-called “direct subsidy”, schools as appropriate for “non-Chinese-speaking students”, the SCMP found almost 50 do not actually admit these kids because “either most of their lessons were taught in Chinese, or the subject was compulsory in their curriculum”.

Aside from the ethical implications of essentially removing the right to a free – or non-financially crippling – primary and secondary education for non-Canto speakers, the sheer short-termism of the decision to pull the plug on the subsidy is mind bogglingly stupid.

Hong Kong’s foundations as a free port, an international hub administered by the British crown but fundamentally a world city, are rapidly disintegrating.

It has always prized itself as a gateway to China and indeed much of its trade is derived from this fact, but since 1997 the SAR has also asserted a kind of ‘localised nationalism’ which is making it a less and less attractive destination for foreigners to settle.

empty classroom


For any normal city this wouldn’t matter, but for one so fundamentally dependent on trade and investment, and the settling of non-Cantonese speakers within its borders, it seems crazy to pursue this kind of policy.

It’s also a sad indictment of the current administration given the city-state’s history under British rule, which gave locals at least a decent English language education. Surely that’s one legacy of colonialism that most people would have wanted to keep – one which at least benefits the SAR and its avaricious locals?

Nope, it seems like post-97, Hong Kong is turning inwards, both in its trade with China and in focusing its education system on Cantonese and Mandarin.

When Singapore is a promising alternative, you know things are bad

If Hong Kong’s the loser, Singapore is undoubtedly the winner.

Most if not all lessons in Singaporean schools are taught in English, aside from “mother tongue” classes.

In stark contrast to the SAR government, the Ministry of Education believes “mastery of English is vital to Singapore’s pupils” because it is “the language of administration, education, commerce, science, technology, and global communication”.

Now, I might have nicked that quote from Wikipedia, but you get the point.

Education is one of the key criteria and expenses aside from housing when ex-pats come to decide where to base themselves.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen to HK post-2016. Now I’m not saying they shouldn’t teach Cantonese in local schools, far from it, but for a government with a budget SURPLUS which topped HK$64 billion (£5bn) in 2012-13 a piddling HK$238m would not be a big ask.

Not that the government cares and there are too few gweilo voters for it to matter anyway, even if they could directly elect their CEO.

The locals, meanwhile, are more focused on preserving their own educational independence from China, which recently almost managed to bully officials into imposing a “national education” curriculum designed to brainwash local kids.

Internatio-no thanks

What we can hear loud and clear from the HK government on this subsidy issue is that you can come and settle here, but if you have kids you’d better get your wallet out.

Christ, have you ever met international school kids? I wouldn’t wish them upon any territory or nation state. Soon these rootless offspring with whiny trans-Atlantic drawl and a misguided sense of their own pre-eminence in the world will be all that’s left of non-Cantonese speaking kids in Hong Kong. That day is drawing shudderingly close.

The hypocrisy is stunning. As Chapman told the SCMP: “The government’s argument that it should not have to support a non-local curriculum is nonsense when you consider that senior civil servants’ children are educated either overseas or in international schools here at taxpayers’ expense.”

Even the Education secretary’s kids apparently went to an Aussie international school here.

It’s almost as if the Hong Kong government only wanted rich foreigners to settle here, which I’m sure you’ll agree is an outlandish and libelous thing to say considering the billions it spends on social welfare and, er, care for society’s most needy…

So, to recap: come to Hong Kong and make shitloads of money, walk around in red chinos and drive white Maseratis. However, if you have kids they are going to international school or you can fuck off to Singapore.

Bye bye Snowden, hello more terrible HK news

25 Jun

save snowdenSo that’s it. Panic over. Move along please. Nothing to see here. Prism snitch Edward Snowden has finally left the building. Currently en route to that bastion of free speech Ecuador, or possibly Venezuela, via the equally liberal Russia, he’s off to live out what’s left of his life. Let’s just hope he makes a better crack of it (pun intended) than John McAfee, founder of the eponymous AV software vendor, whose bizarre video set various alarm bells ringing last week. What’s that John? They’re not alarm bells, they’re police sirens? Really? OK, I’m going to suggest you ease off a bit on the meth this week, ok pal?

Snowden’s revelations have of course been a propaganda coup for China – a gift straight out of the blue that now makes the US look hugely hypocritical when it accuses Beijing of sponsoring hacking intrusions on US targets. The truth is that the NSA revelations, while deeply concerning on one level (the Verizon orders, not PRISM), are definitely not the same as the state sponsored Chinese cyber attacks which Obama and co are angry about.

Rather than snooping for traditional Cold War national security reasons, these attacks are about nicking hugely valuable IP – on military equipment, smartphone designs, high-speed trains, you name it. In China it’s pretty impossible to separate state from private enterprise as the Party runs through it all, so anything which benefits SOEs or even private firms could be seen as benefitting Team China – thus such hacks are thought to be fair game. Sadly the media globally has been poor at articulating the difference, whereas in China, of course, it just ignores there is a difference.

One major problem resulting from Snowden’s departure from Hong Kong faces local journalists, however – what the fuck do we write about now? The media here may be free, at least theoretically, but it’s not what you’d call a great exponent of the art. There’s one all-encompassing narrative – when will we get universal suffrage? – and everything else is really just a sideshow.

Standard bearer the SCMP was quick to label EXCLUSIVE over every Snowden story it got its hands on but this tired old rag of a local paper has really seen better days. I know for a fact that PRs have had their editorial “suggestions” cut and pasted wholesale into stories – I mean not just sentences but whole paragraphs of text. Even the local TV newscasters stumble and stammer over their dreadfully dull soliloquies. Vested interests have an ever-tighter grip on the media here but, despite the odd public protest, the general downward trend is accepted because, after all, it’s still better than what goes on across the border.

And what of that news in China proper? Well, state-run news service Xinhua has scoured the vast Middle Kingdom for the most important news around and found this thriller – a Beijing woman’s breast implants exploded after she lay on her front for 4 straight hours playing video games. Yup.  Hold the front page…

Another story, actually from The Telegraph’s Beijing correspondent, is worth pointing out this week. In Zhongxiang city, livid parents attacked external exam invigilators after they used metal detectors to relieve students of smartphones and secret transmitters ahead of their gaokao exams, in a major crack down on cheating.

The college entrance exams have attained huge significance in a society where the acquisition of wealth and status is everything, raising the stakes ever higher for a place at a good uni. So far so normal, you might say, after all every parent wants their child to do well in exams and cheating certainly shouldn’t be tolerated. Ah, but in China cheating is endemic in every walk of life, you see, the key is to not getting caught. The fact is that the folks in Zhongxiang weren’t very good enough at it and now they’re paying the price. The previous year, for example, examiners discovered 99 identical papers in one subject.

“We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat,” screamed the angry mob of over 2,000 parents and kids.

I don’t think there could be any more perfect a commentary on modern China that that little vignette in a small corner of Hubei.

What are you smiling at? Oh, nothing…

29 Jan

Hong Kong panoramaHere’s a question. Why are so many Hong Kongers so bloody miserable? I hadn’t really thought about it until a Gallup poll of 150,000 people worldwide last month revealed that those living in the SAR and their counterparts in Singapore are among the most miserable anywhere on the planet.

Singapore came bottom in the poll of 148 countries, with just under half expressing happiness, while Hong Kong came in 73rd, with 69 per cent of respondents all smiles. As pointed out by SCMP, these two city-states rank third (HK) and seventh (Sing) on the World Bank’s per capita GDP table – in Hong Kong’s case the figure is ten times higher than that of the happiness joint leader, Panama.

So what can we deduce from this? Money can’t buy you happiness? Asians are intrinsically less likely to tell a stranger they’re happy than Central Americans? Such polls are a spurious waste of time? Well, a mixture of all three probably. The problem with this kind of research is that no matter what the results, you can drag some kind of expert out of the woodwork to validate it with their insightful social commentary.

So here’s mine. I can’t speak for Singapore but there’s a huge wealth gap in Hong Kong. Around one in six Hong Kongers live in poverty, according to a ten year study released last November by Oxfam. Bearing in mind the median salary of Hong Kong’s top 10 per cent is HK$88,800 (£7,300) per month this is pretty shameful. It would be difficult to imagine even Margaret Thatcher in her prime ignoring that kind of societal imbalance.

So that might explain why around a sixth of Hong Kong isn’t very happy. What about the rest? To put it bluntly, the acquisition of wealth seems to be one of the few things which binds the people of this former colony together. It’s why they run two or three jobs, working all hours; why they school their kids until all the joy is sucked out of them, wait until they’ve been to uni and then nag them to get hitched before they hit 30. Incidentally it’s also why you see men who’ve been beaten furiously with the ugly stick married to stunning brides. Money. Money. Money. It’s fucking relentless and, I imagine, it doesn’t make for super happy smiley people.

I’m not sure whether the survey was confined to indigenous locals, but I’d also posit the notion that there’s probably a difference between the happiness rankings of Cantonese and gweilos living in Hong Kong. I say that through no rigorous research of my own other than I’m having a cracking time here.