Monstrous ESF and the Liberation of Sheung Shui Station

A quick flick through yesterday’s China Daily before throwing it out reveals a couple of interesting(-ish) articles. First of all somebody really, really hates the ‘rotten’, ‘monstrous’ English Schools Foundation. It seems everyone hates the ESF almost as much as they want to get their kids into it.

Commentator Victor Fung Keung lashes out against a publicly subsidized network of schools catering almost entirely to expatriate foreigners who are rich and should send their kids to private schools here or abroad – or somehow put the little ones into local Chinese-medium institutions. However, that’s not the ESF system of reality. A large proportion of its students today are permanent residents, many of them ethnic Chinese. So what is Fung’s real problem?

It seems to be hatred of the ESF as a colonial symbol, but there may be more to it. Some ESF-bashers have a seething, barely rational loathing of these Anglo schools. Kids who go to ESF schools come out different from other Hong Kong kids, for example in English-language skills and maybe in critical thinking. They are (mostly) not hyper-brainy types like their counterparts who go to local ‘elite’ schools and become barristers and surgeons. But they will have advantages over the products of mainstream local schools in many future careers. They will be able to do more than occupy the intermediary/broker/sales positions that the mainstream local exam-obsessed system condemns many kids to. So maybe social envy is the root problem.

Today’s South China Morning Post has an item by Sin-ming Shaw mentioning that Chief Executive CY Leung’s son is reportedly at a pricy boarding school in England, where the oh-so-important-and-vital National Education curriculum doesn’t exist. Strangely, this sort of privilege enjoyed by Hong Kong’s ruling elite (at public expense if they’re in the government) doesn’t arouse anything like the bitterness that exists towards the ESF. Presumably, the latter’s denizens are of broadly the same caste as people like Fung. Less social distance, more to resent.

Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite mouth-frothing patriot Lau Nai-keung wants an ideological war against the Hong Kong City State concept, as promoted by the Autonomy Movement of that name. Interestingly, he dismisses the classical Marxist solution of just giving the people “better-paying jobs and bigger houses” to wean them off this splittist course. (Lau was an early supporter of CY Leung, whose socio-economic policy vision can virtually be summarized in the jobs-and-houses line.) Something more subtle is needed in addition. Lau is particularly worried by the slogan “Chinese people go back to China” seen at the Reclaim Sheung Shui Station protest (see here and here). Understandably. He calls for confrontation with the ‘dissidents’ and the city-state idea with the aim of clarifying Hong Kong’s Chinese-ness while accommodating its differences. Establishment leaders, he says, are failing in their duty by avoiding the issue.

With the ESF issue, officials are avoiding open debate on what to do probably because they fear highlighting local schools’ inadequacies and raising the possibility that ordinary riffraff should have more right to choose what sort of school their kids should attend. It would be interesting to know what Lau thinks of some people’s preference for the ‘colonial’ school system. Lau is probably right to say that an open struggle of ideas with what he sees as an anti-China force would be enlightening. But again, we can expect officials to do all they can to avoid it, for fear of finding out something they don’t want to know. Given the recent National Education mess, they can probably be forgiven for not overtly taking on supporters of local autonomy and identity.

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33 Responses to Monstrous ESF and the Liberation of Sheung Shui Station

  1. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Off-topic, but I only noticed today that the insanity seen earlier this week in the mainland included an attack on the US ambassador’s car:

    I expect the feelings of the American people were duly hurt.

  2. Prodigal_Son says:

    Was it ever thus. I recall a similar issue in the UK where certain, especially vociferous opponents of independent education (Labour MPs) ended up sending their children to precisely those institutions, all the while railing against their very existence.

    We all ultimately want what’s best for our children. We just have very strong ideas about what’s best for other people’s children.

    Glad to see the Sheung Shui protesters managed to get another bunch of colonial flags after that lout jumped the barriers and trashed the one they’d set up during the last protest.

    I remember a time when “We are all Chinese” was the refrain of just about every man in the street. I always found it a little puzzling: the more mixed up your ethnicity, the more inexplicably bizarre all the ethnic pride of others appears. Culture is the only real yardstick (though we should not fall into the trap of conflating it with ‘truth’) and HK culture has, for decades, been hugely different from the mainland.

  3. Bela Pestalozzi says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Even a local politician said it recently.

    The ESF has too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. They need a good round of sackings. I think they know that by now.

    If the local public education system was any good, we wouldn’t need half the ESF school places, probably not even three quarters of them. As it is, the schools are stuffed with the children of civil servants, industrialists and other rich people who don’t trust the local education system, quite wisely.

    Sadly, in twenty-five years, I’ve never heard of an official Hong Kong Government policy for educating foreigners or about private schools. The free market however can’t solve everything. Just as health services have now been taken out of the list of economic hubs, so private schools ought to be taken out too.

    Private schools are the biggest barrier to education reform in Hong Kong. When civil servants and the gentry of Hong Kong can opt out of the system, the system will remain in its present idiotic Dickensian state.

    They ought to be banned.

  4. Maugrim says:

    Good that some elephants in the room are highlighted, 1. why ESF schools are popular with local parents (one reason is an alternate qualification that still allows entry into the ‘good’ HK universities via non-JUPAS applications), 2. why Government officials send their kids abroad. 3. why NE will become only for the ‘poor’, ie, those unable to choose options one and two. The fact that CY sends his son abroad whilst others are compelled to be brainwashed is an utter disgrace.

  5. Joe Blow says:

    What happened to supply and demand ?

    If there is such a huge demand for quality private education, why isn’t somebody -or everybody- jumping in to supply and make a ton of money ?

    “They ought to be banned”.
    The Khmer Rouge tried that approach -with a very broad brush- but it didn’t really work.

  6. Maugrim says:

    Oh, btw, strange that there’s no mouth frothing about Harrow in HK, ie, how it got Government land and the debenture it charges.

  7. Mary Hinge says:

    My recently acquired HK colonial flag fell apart in the wash. The stitching at the Union Jack gave way. Made in bloody China, I’ll bet you.

  8. Pussy Riot says:

    The author of the China Daily article, Victor FUNG Keung, is clearly in denial. He states  ” In 1967, following the social riots in Hong Kong …” Are  those the ‘social riots’ organised by local leftists, in contravention of Beijing’s orders, that eventually morphed into a terrorist campaign against the Hong Kong people, which left children torn to pieces by bombs. Are those the ‘social riots’ that finally cemented Hong Kong public opinion against the leftists, and saw them isolated from mainstream civilized society for decades. Never mind the Japanese rewriting the history books, this is the first time I’ve heard a terrorist campaign called a ‘social riot.’

  9. Sojourner says:

    ““They ought to be banned”.
    “The Khmer Rouge tried that approach -with a very broad brush- but it didn’t really work.”

    I do enjoy a little reductio ad absurdum with my Earl’s Grey in the morning.

    Personally, i think all rich people shouild be strung up from the nearest lamp-post.

  10. Eric Chan, For Bela Pestalozzi says:

    The reductio ad absurdum is the present system!

    Bannning private schools is what we doctors call a ‘strategic intervention’.

    Private schools would only be allowed if they serve the children of bona fide (thus obviously not Mainland) non-permanent Hong Kong residents.

    Watch the feathers fly on that one!

  11. darovia says:

    The answer is simple and has worked to plan several times in recent history.

    1, announce that ESF will no longer be subsidised
    2, ESF will say fees will therefore need to be doubled
    3, warn Victoria Park staff to expect visitors on Sunday
    4, undercount the number of middle class parents marching from Victoria Park to Admiralty demanding the Govt backs down
    5, refuse to back down
    6, get Eddie Ng to explain why the Govt will not back down
    7, back down
    8, relax until another issue needs to be ‘resoloved’

  12. Sir Crispin says:

    “Let them eat cake.”

  13. Walter De Havilland says:

    Having had two kids go through the ESF I’d be happy to see its demise. But not for the reasons that the frothy mouthed leftists suggest. My reasoning is that it simply does not provide value for money.

    The quality of the education at the primary schools is good, but rapidly goes down hill at the secondary level with all the focus on the bright kids and sod the rest. Kids are pushed into courses just to keep up the school’s grade point average, and diverted away from subjects that interest them just because a teacher believes the kid won’t get top grades. As the Chicago school experiment showed, when teachers have low expectations these will be realized in the pupils performance and vice versa.

    My advice to parents is avoid the ESF if you what your kid to have a good all round education. I pulled my kids out of the ESF and watched them blossom in a more constructive environment.

    Lastly, the negative effect that Heather Du Quesnay has had in turning the culture from one focused on the pupils to seeking profit should not be underestimated. The ESF is now a business and parents are the cash cow.

  14. Stephen says:

    Victor Fung has clearly never been to an ESF school and perhaps that is the problem and reason for the rant (Did little Vic get refused?).

    Even a cursory glance at a 2012 ESF classroom will reveal its full of HK Chinese and why is that Vic ?

    The “decision” not to continue with the ESF subvention was taken years ago but they are terrified of implementing it for exactly the reasons in point 3 of Darovia’s above comment.

  15. ESF Money Grabbing says:

    I have a young son who is currently in K2 and we are in the process of applying for P1 places. If its not debentures they want, its building fees etc etc

    Only last week we received an email from his Kindergarten to say that they were supplying an ‘International Story Teller’ at a cost of only $120 per child

    Now, that does not sound too bad until you realise there that there are about 300 kids in the kindergarten, does a story teller really charge over $30,000 to stop by for few hours. Or does the story teller get a few thousand and ESF pockets the rest for arranging it !!!!

  16. Big Al says:

    Unforunately very true. My two go to ESF primary schools because their Cantonese isn’t good enough for the local school system, which includes some very good ones. Believe you me, I’d be happy not to pay ESF fees. Better education is always available at a price.

    Mr Fung, as a “journalist” and moron is clearly not letting the facts get in the way of a story. I’ve never read such a crock of shit!

    Firstly, “expatriate” no longer equals “rich”. Since 97% of the population is Chinese, the majority of the “rich” cannot be expatriate. Secondly, the majority of kids at ESF are from local tax-paying Chinese families. The minority are from local tax-paying non-Chinese families, such as mine. This is obvious to anyone, except Victor. All the really rich kids go to private international schools, not ESF.

    Chinese or expat is irrelevant, or should be. Why should tax-paying permanent residents who choose (=can afford) to send their children to ESF be denied the same level of government subvention as other tax-paying permanent residents who send their children to local schools?

    ESF need to show the facts: How many of their pupils’ are non-tax paying expat freeloaders and how many from tax paying permanent residents? Then Victor could shut up and fuck off back to his ivory tower.

  17. Heather DQ says:

    You just don’t understand how expensive it is running an educational establishment.

    The cost of retirement villas in many desirable locations has doubled in recent years and index-linked pension doesn’t always mean that.

    Put up and shut up. We know best.

  18. PCC says:

    There is virtually unlimited demand amongst local parents for an ESF-style education for their children. Why doesn’t the government simply make it happen?

  19. pink dolphin says:

    Can anyone confirm whether or not Victor Fung Keung is one-and-the-same with Vigor Fung who used to report on China for the Asian Wall Street Journal back in the early 1980s? If one takes into account the 30 years that have passed, the China Daily photo bears a definite resemblance. In those days I recall Vigor Fung was a pretty decent China watcher whose specialty was scratching out relatively scarce and often questionable data to analyze.

  20. Walter De Havilland says:

    We are all wasting our breath because Heather DQ has moved on and recognized her niche. The ESF under her is focused on the local Chinese who are fleeing the awful local schools. The ESF is feeding off the low standards of these schools, with a veneer of excellence attributed to the English langauge medium. And local parents will pay, and not ask embarassing questions about over-priced foreign school trips, of doubtful educational value.

    I note that one of the values of the ESF is “being accountable for what we do and the resources we use” therefore I asked to see the accounts for one such trip. None were forthcoming and that’s when I decided I was being ripped off. Before the government gives the ESF another dollar I think the public deserve to have transparency on the ESF accounts including the employment packages.

  21. Redial Hold says:

    I don’t want my son going to an ESF school. Within a short time of them joining, many of the kids morph into arrogant little knobheads whose vocabulary is dominated by the word “like”. It’s a shame they can’t be inhumanely culled.

  22. Wanchai Dreamer says:

    @Heather DQ

    Just woken abruptly from a nightmare…. your comments were being narrated by Margaret Thatcher – in fact they are still echoing inside my head. Please stop!

  23. EDB says:


    Simple: because far too many bureaucrats at the EDB and local principals/teachers would lose enormous amounts of face and have to admit that what the people of HK really want is that vile, decadent, ‘Western’ education with its troubling emphasis on individualism, dialectism, social activism, critical analysis, etc., instead of the soul destroying neo-Confucian clusterf*&k they’ve bumbled through so many decades creating.

    Oh, and they certainly wouldn’t want the great unwashed getting uppity and possibly challenging their own chubby little ESF educated Biggles Chan for those cushy government or private sector jobs, would they?

    If they didn’t send their own children there I’m sure they would be working hard to get rid of the ESF altogether rather than expand it for the simple reason that no matter its faults it still makes the local system look like it just fell out of the pages of a Dickens novel (for those of you saying you would put your kids in a local school if they had the Canto ability, I call BS. The first day your little darling comes home with 2 bags full of mindless homework and exercise books, many riddled with errors or assigned simply to make the teacher look ‘hard working’, that takes your kid until midnight to complete, you’d be pulling him or her out of there in a heartbeat and I wouldn’t blame you!).

  24. paul says:

    Is this the same “Dr” Victor Fung who taught at Harvard? Who has a substantial interest in the trading giant Li and Fung? The same Li and Fung that has extensive trading interests in China and with Japanese firms? How does he decide which business to burn down today?

    This is the academic/politician/businessman who has to hide behind a teaching job in journalism?

  25. Walter De Havilland says:

    @Paul. It’s a different Doctor FUNG.

  26. Aghast says:

    But it is the same Victor Fung whose daughter (I am told) spoke no Cantonese until she was teenager, not even at home, and was barely aware she was Chinese. Don’t know where she went to school.

    And is that a state school chip I see on Bela’s elegant, oikey, Geordie shoulder?

  27. pink dolphin says:

    Yes indeed. Victor Fung (冯强)is the former Vigor Fung (冯强). He must have changed his name somewhere along the line.

    His bio taken from HK Baptist University’s website is as follows:
    Mr. Victor Fung has rich experience in journalism, public relations and management. He spent many years writing and editing business and other news for The Asian Wall Street Journal, Financial Post (Canada), South China Morning Post (deputy chief editor), Ming Pao (deputy-editor-in-chief) before becoming Reader’s Digest’s editor-in-chief (Chinese edition). He later became director of communications and public affairs at two local universities before taking up full-time teaching at HKBU.

    Mr Fung graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (with a B.S.Sc degree in journalism and English with first class honours). He later obtained an M.Soc.Sc degree in public administration from the University of Hong Kong and an MPhil degree in international relations from the University of Cambridge.

    His research interests are in English writing, international relations, business journalism and public relations.

  28. Real Tax Payer says:

    As a side- observer:

    Immediately I saw the bull’s red flag- word ” ESF” I bet myself there would be about 30 heated comments

    I was not far wrong


    PS: Tony Blair sent his children to exactly the kind of upper-class/ exclusive school his govt was trying to eliminate

  29. Real Tax Payer says:

    Youtube : “bremner bird and fortune tony blair school”


    If only every HK govt education minister* was forced to put his/her children though the nearest HK public school……..

    ( *and tycoons and all those who pay lip service support to the govt’s education policy !)

  30. Real Lax Mayor says:

    It’s articles like this that reenforce the idea that its necessary to leave the Withering Lychee at least twice a year, purely to gain some perspective. After reading those links I don’t know whats causing me more mental anguish –

    1.The fact that a University is paying this man a salary.
    2. That he makes Lau Nai Keung look sensible.
    3. Michael Chugani on ATV

    p.s. as a product of the ESF system i’d like to give a big middle finger to all you detractors, we’re doing the best we can considering the circumstances. At least we’ve got something over our American brethren over in the international schools, you’d never see us producing something like this:

  31. Maugrim says:

    Watching that video makes me wonder who who I’d rather have more of in HK, local kids derided as drones or the self absorbed wankers shown in the video. Sure, the wankers probably had small group learning and can express themselves…….

  32. Prodigal_Son says:

    @Real Lax Mayor

    I threw up in my mouth a little bit while watching that video.

    As a fellow product of the ESF I’ve got to agree with you there. No one who made that video or was in any way involved in it would be allowed to show their face in school the next day or to ever live it down. Admittedly I can’t speak for all the schools in the ESF system but mine, even with its well documented notoriety for underage beer consumption, wouldn’t put up with a video like that.

    Not really sure why you’d want to put a video of yourself buying cigarettes, drinking under age and smoking pot online. Pretty surefire way to ensure your employment chances are tanked.


  33. Real Scot Player says:

    The subvention is now only 20% of ESF Income. Keeps declining 1-2% a year as ESF spiking fees and HKSAR refuse to increase it

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