Free education to be extended by 25%

The half-hour news segment on RTHK Radio 3 this morning seems curiously focused on one part of the world. Following a genuinely important lead story on international recognition of Syrian rebels, attention swiftly turns to a British court that has overturned the extradition of a Jordanian alleged terrorist on human rights grounds. Officials are angry, and the guy’s lawyers happy. Then we are told about someone resigning from the BBC because of some scandal about a story about pedophiles (but not the same as the BBC’s last pedophile thing). Then we get into serious detail about the situation at the BBC. Then we hear that the guy who resigned had a massive payoff and that British politicians are getting worked up about it. Then we hear said politicians intoning in Parliament or somewhere. Then we get an exceedingly lengthy interview with RTHK’s ‘UK correspondent’ Gavin-something telling us even more – and more – about events at his country’s public broadcaster.

Phew. Eventually we move on, and the next story is about how companies like Starbucks and Amazon are mysteriously paying little or no tax on their business operations. In the UK, that is. Hong Kong gets a brief mention while I am brushing my teeth; I think it concerns companies falling victim to email scams. Then it’s back to the only place that really matters, with the announcer reciting at length from that list that never stops coming down the newswires: Manchester 3, Rotherham 2; Chelsea 2, Bolton 1; Arsenal 1, blah-blah blah-blah, with a last-minute free kick that sounds startlingly similar to yesterday’s last-minute free kick. And that’s your half-hour news cycle, culminating with the air pollution index for downtown London. The name of this show? Hong Kong Today.

Is this what they call de-Sinification?

I had tuned in hoping to hear something about Hong Kong Education Secretary Eddie Ng’s announcement that he wants to increase the length of free education for each child from 12 to 15 years – which is a pretty big deal, even if the details are vague (RTHK3 gives it a quick mention online). This means a real increase in recurrent expenditure, highlighting a contrast between CY Leung’s administration and that of his predecessor Donald Tsang. It also implies a redistribution of wealth from the better-off who pay direct taxes to the less well-off who don’t, in our highly unequal city.

Most of all, it suggests a positive attempt at social engineering. That’s an unpopular phrase, like ‘eugenics’, but governments inevitably influence the structure of society actively or inactively. Donald Tsang was involved in ‘social engineering’ by not providing free schooling for little kids. By reversing that state of affairs, CY Leung’s team would offer a possibility for children born into poorer homes to earn more than they otherwise would in adulthood.

Sir Bow-Tie’s first administration did introduce a small-scale voucher scheme for kindergartens. Eddie Ng’s idea looks like a major expansion of that, and so we will unavoidably have arguments over the sums involved. Sources mention HK$16,000 per toddler a year, or some HK$1,300 a month, which doesn’t sound like it will buy much pre-schooling, unless they pack the kids in 100 to a class (and why not – they’re small, right?). Teachers’ unions are also muttering, though apparently unsure whether to welcome or oppose the plan.

Intriguingly, the Standard’s story hints at juicier controversy to come: more affluent parents, a commentator says, ‘do not want the government to intervene’. I’m not sure what this means. But I do know our hyper-ambitious middle-class parents go to enormous lengths to get their precious princes and princesses into the right kindergartens. The elite, exclusive ones full of high-IQ, piano-playing, Mandarin-speaking toddlers destined for Harvard and greatness as highly paid accountants. Could it be that Eddie Ng’s subsidy plans might crack the doors to such establishments open a bit more to the somewhat less wealthy, thus increasing competition for spaces? Maybe there’s another explanation; either way, this new policy will probably remind us that there are always losers as well as winners when you make things fairer.

Now back to the studio for the latest riveting in-depth update on a distant land’s public broadcaster’s resignation scandal crisis meltdown thing…



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17 Responses to Free education to be extended by 25%

  1. Sojourner says:

    The Empire Strikes Back.

  2. Joe Blow says:

    RTHK has been, for a long time, a sort of default employment option for washed up Brit journos in HK. You know the kind: first a stint at the Sub-Standard, then a switch to RTHK. Then they try the entrepreneur thing (this is HK after all): a PR company (broke), a genuine English pub in Tai Po or somewhere (didn’t work), an education consultancy (“too much competition”), a wine-import company (drank more than they sold) and on and on. And after each failure they would move back to RTHK, getting ready for the next big thing. Until they run out of ideas or liver cells, and that’s when they decide to stay until “retirement in Phuket”.

  3. Lois Beluga says:

    To completely absolve oneself from listening to RTHK news, all you have to do is to read the BBC and the Government Information Service. I think they pipe them in direct to RTHK, ready-formatted. To be two days ahead of the New China Morning Post, all you have to do is to go to Google News Hong Kong and press the page translate feature.

    As for edukayshun, a subject in which you are like everyone else an expert in, the process of producing idiots to plug into the multi-sector Hong Kong business mainframe – our education system – is being undermined by the free-thinking aspects of current pre-school teaching techniques.

    We have to begin the process of idiocy earlier.

    It is also the old Hong Kong idea of overkill. Quantity above quality.

    Walk into a shop in Hong Kong and they only know the price of the goods, not what they can do.

    Walk into a Hong Kong Government department and they will tell you how much any project costs but will not be able to describe the benefits.

    More, more, more. It’s what made the Colony (British or Chinese) great!


  4. Revolution says:

    I assume that one of the purposes of this education funding idea is to finish the ESF subvention off, in that the Government will soon be saying that they need the subvention monies for this more worthy project…quite clever actually.

    There is, of course, ample money for both, but that will not be acknowledged.

  5. Headache says:

    Yup, I have BBC and RTHK news feeds in my RSS reader, and the latter constantly recycles articles from the former with barely a change. About one in ten articles are actually of any local interest, and the ones that are look like they were written by high school students. Pointless.

  6. Stephen says:

    The education story that interests me most is CY Leung’s (it couldn’t be Ed) clever (?) handling of the long running ESF (it’s not white anymore) saga.

    Seems, if I understand Chairman Carson’s latest missive correctly, subvention stays for those already in but goes for those planning on joining the institution next school year. So two tier pricing ? Anger from the have not’s, silence from the rest. Of course history tells us the 15 year old HKSARG will f*ck up the implementation of this royally allowing the ESF saga many more years in the headlines.

    Wonder if Eddie’s bait of HK$16 K worth of vouchers hits the ESF’s next, and more expensive, primary intake?

  7. Joe Blow says:

    That Heather still looks good for a 65 y.o. school marm. Any idea what her retirement bonus will be ?

  8. Big Al says:

    Ha! That’s not Heather in the photos – it’s Eddie Ng!! (although they do look similar, I’ll grant you, particularly when she’s not “made up”, the old trout … come to think of it, has anyone ever seen both of them at the same time? Hmmm). I’d imagine her bonus will be similar to the salary for the 54 days work put in by the ex-Director General of beeb – why else would ESF need these half-million dollar debentures?

    What I want to know is when will this proposed additional $16K for toddlers’ kindergarten “education” affect civil service morale? When will our civil servants demand compensation, as a sign of respect/sincerity/ whatever, for the $16K they missed out for their little ones (obviously it must be applicable to overseas kindergartens)?

  9. Maugrim says:

    The ESF wants Government cash but refuses to abide by the same accounting or financial requirements that any other body in receipt of public funds must abide by. They can’t have it both ways. Either go it alone with their $2 billion in assets or accept the Government’s cash and the rules that come with it, that everyone else has to follow.

  10. Mary Hinge says:

    Personality is formed by the age of 3 years, Eddie Ng asserts.

    So, given his lack of personality, can we put his mental age at two?

  11. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Any betting the subsidy will only apply to Cantonese- and Mandarin-language education?

    Not surprising the middle classes oppose free education or fruit money. It’s a kneejerk reaction, like driving in the middle lane or hoarding vinegar: ancestral memories of the Hundred Flowers or plagues of locusts dictate grabbing all you can, while preparing to kick and elbow if need be.

  12. Chimp says:

    Lois seems to get more and more bitter as time goes by. Perhaps s/he should fuck off back to Blighty, where everyone is so clever and things are done right? Food for thought.

    Education should be a doddle here. People value it highly, the government is loaded, and it’s a tiny little place. Good quality teacher training, well resourced schools and a decent assessment system and the job’s a good ‘un.

    Then again, it’s not absolutely required (Lois isn’t necessarily wrong, just a bit over the top in her/his/its racism) given HK’s business model. Perhaps we can muddle through with a literate, hard working populace who generally speaking don’t grow up hoping to get pregnant and live on the dole.

  13. stanley gibbons esq says:

    Talking of washed-up brits, a gigantic grassy oval has appeared at the central waterfront. What is it for? Are they going to do the decent thing and relocate the cricket club back to where it belongs? (*dusts down flag*)

  14. Aghast says:

    Details are indeed vague. 85% of kindergarten kids already get that $16000 a year, in school vouchers (Donald’s scheme).

    Would the change be simply making that cash, as the Standard story suggests? Eddie’s proposal does not look like any sort of ‘major expansion’, let alone any radical ‘social engineering’.

    You’ll just have to keep looking for CY’s silver lining.

  15. Des Espoir says:

    The kindergarten voucher scheme a few years ago (a good idea, actually) was “back-door engineered” by Ed Bureau… They managed to word it in such a way that non-Cantonese kidergartens were excluded, despite the fact that this stricture was never in what was passed in Legco….

    Heigh Ho….

  16. PropertyDeveloper says:


    I can’t see the slightest shred of racism in Lois’s contribution — but shovelfuls in your own. Perhaps the accuracy of his description of the HK way of life shows he’s been here longer than you.

  17. FOARP says:

    @Joe Blow – RE:

    “RTHK has been, for a long time, a sort of default employment option for washed up Brit journos in HK. You know the kind: first a stint at the Sub-Standard, then a switch to RTHK. Then they try the entrepreneur thing (this is HK after all): a PR company (broke), a genuine English pub in Tai Po or somewhere (didn’t work), an education consultancy (“too much competition”), a wine-import company (drank more than they sold) and on and on. And after each failure they would move back to RTHK, getting ready for the next big thing. Until they run out of ideas or liver cells, and that’s when they decide to stay until “retirement in Phuket”.”

    You’re forgetting the obligatory stint on the mainland working for China Daily/Global Times/CCTV/CRI showing the “other face of China”. This usually lasts the exact amount of time required to get married to a producer/editor twenty years their junior and get fired over what they will claim was a matter of conscience but those in the know will say was an inability to do anything but show up to work totally inebriated.

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