- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Hong Kong Guide (PDF)
Schools in Hong Kong are well regarded academically. While public schools uphold a high standard of learning, the curriculum is mostly taught in Cantonese. This can be a deal breaker for some families, especially those only staying in the city-state for a short time or those whose children aren't young enough to be able to pick the language up quickly.
Another concern parents may have about public schooling in Hong Kong is the reputation of the country's curriculum as being centred on rote learning. However, significant reforms to the curriculum have taken place in recent years, resulting in a more modern and well-rounded revamped curriculum.
Still, for the sake of easing the transition in Hong Kong, most expat families opt to enrol their children in private international schools. Fortunately, the diverse nature of Hong Kong ensures that there are many international teachers and school options for expat children.
Public schools in Hong Kong
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 be a great help to children young enough to pick up the language quickly. However, for older children, this can still be a difficult path.
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.
International schools in Hong Kong
There is a large number of international schools in Hong Kong which teach the curriculum of their founding country or other internationally recognised programmes such as the International Baccalaureate. The American and British curricula are taught by many international schools, but other countries are also represented, such as Canada, France and Germany.
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. In addition, demand is high and securing a spot is tricky.
English Schools Foundation
Some expat families consider schools run by the English Schools Foundation (ESF). ESF schools are subsidised by the government. The organisation runs more than 20 international schools across the city-state, all of which teach the International Baccalaureate programme.
Compared to non-ESF international schools, fees are cheaper. In addition, ESF schools are not academically selective, making it easier to gain entry, although waiting lists can still be long.
One caveat to bear in mind is that student admittance to primary and secondary EFS schools is bound by zoning, so parents looking to go this route should take this into consideration when looking for accommodation.
Homeschooling in Hong Kong
The laws around homeschooling in Hong Kong are vague, but it is generally agreed that families intending to homeschool should inform the Hong Kong Education Bureau of their intention to do so. There are a number of local homeschooling organisations in Hong Kong that expats can seek guidance from.
Tutors in Hong Kong
Due the competitive nature of schooling in Hong Kong, hiring a tutor is common practice. For expats, tutors can be especially useful in smoothing the transition of an expat child into a new environment. Tutors can be hired for anything from general assistance with school subjects to helping maintain a child's mother tongue or tutoring them on Mandarin. Differences in education systems may result in expat children being behind in some areas of their new curriculum, and tutors are an excellent way to catch up.
Tutoring in Hong Kong is big business, so expats will have plenty of choices. It's always best to thoroughly research all options before deciding on any particular tutor. Schools will often be able to recommend a tutor. Some of the larger tutoring groups include the i-Seven Education Center and British Tutors.
Special needs education in Hong Kong
Most international schools in Hong Kong offer special-needs facilities, but the type of support offered varies widely from school to school. Some schools offer assistance with only mild learning difficulties, while others will have more extensive support systems designed to deal with a range of needs. Some endeavour to keep special needs children in mainstream classes as far as possible, while other schools admit only those with special educational needs.
For this reason, expat parents looking for good-quality special needs education should be thorough in their research. The ideal is to find the best fit between the school and the child – one that can meet their particular needs and that has the right experience and resources. Local special needs associations are a good place to find recommendations and learn more about the system.
Some specialist providers include the Jockey Club Sarah Roe School, which offers special needs education for children of all ages with severe learning difficulties, and the Child Development Centre, a charity which offers a full range of early educational programmes, assessments and therapies for children with special needs.
►For a list of schooling options for expats, see our list of International Schools in Hong Kong
►For frequently asked questions, see Expert Advice on International Schools in Hong Kong
Are you an expat living in Hong Kong?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Hong Kong. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Shannon is an American teacher and writer currently living in Hong Kong. She writes a book and travel blog about her reading adventures, and she is working on a travel memoir about the year she found herself unexpectedly alone in HK. She likes fencing, traveling and coffee shops.
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