If you are new to Hong Kong or having a child going into secondary education, choosing the right school may be a difficult task for you, especially with the plethora of confusing acronyms like PIS, DSS, ESF, EDB ,- not to mention the geographical confusion like West Island School and South Island School are both located on Hong Kong Island while Island School is not, and all the abbreviations of schools names that all sound too similar: CAIS, CIS, CDNIS are all totally different schools and sometimes even the school name itself that all sound the same ( like Delia Memorial school and Delia School of Canada are not even remotely related in anyway).
In this article we will be addressing these differences and below are some pointers to help you navigate the landscape of different schools in Hong Kong.
Types of school
There are many types of school in Hong Kong and there are a lot of classifications: Government schools like Queen's College, Queen Elizabeth School, King's College. Direct subsidy schools (DSS) like St. Paul's Convent School, Diocesan Girls School, Diocesan Boys school, Ying Wa College, St. Paul's College. English Schools Foundation (ESF) schools like South Island School, King George V School, Discovery College, Renaissance College. Other International schools like Victoria Shanghai Academy, Malvern College Hong Kong, Kiangsu-Chekiang College International Section (KCCIS).
The most important thing to keep in mind is that most government schools only offer the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) and is mostly taught in Cantonese, so if your child is not familiar with Cantonese and Chinese teaching, you will need to consider schools that offer non-local curricula with includes ESF, PIS, or international schools, as well as some DSS schools.
As DSS schools are allowed to set their own curricula, some choose to offer non-local qualifications, often alongside the HKDSE. For example, Po Leung Kuk Ngan Po Ling College, Delia Memorial School Glee Path, Li Po Chun United World College, and St Paul's Coeducational College offer the IB Diploma and YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, Diocesan Girls' School and St. Paul Convent School offer GCE A-Levels.
Of all options, DSS schools will be the most affordable as they receive a government subsidy while PIS and international schools will be the costliest, although prices vary greatly from school to school. ESF schools have a long history in Hong Kong and, while not as affordable as they once were, they are still reasonably priced compared to many other international schools.
Although schools may offer the same programs, they may not necessarily have the same subjects on offer. This can be important if your child has a particular degree programme in mind that has specific entry requirements. For instance, if your child aspires to study Theatre in the UK, it would be beneficial for them to have taken A-Level Drama & Theatre or IB Theatre. However, not all schools that offer A-Levels or the IB Diploma offer Theatre. For instance, YMCA, Kellett School and Independent Schools Foundation Academy (ISF) do, but Kiangsu-Chekiang College, International Section and Singapore International School do not. Other subjects that may not be offered at all schools include Design Technology, Computer Science, Music, Business Management, Psychology, Philosophy and Environmental Systems and Societies.
If your child is thinking of applying to the US, there are fewer subject specific requirements, but since college credit is offered by many colleges for particular courses/levels, this may also be a consideration in subject and level choices.
Language Requirements and Provision
Many schools in Hong Kong have a bilingual Chinese-English teaching approach which may require students to take Chinese as part of their IB Diploma Programme, as is the case for Chinese International School and ISF Academy, for instance. This means that students that do not have a strong grasp of Chinese language already, will not be eligible to join these schools at senior secondary level.
Some schools offer students the option to self-study their mother tongue, such as Li Po Chun UWC and ESF schools do, but most do not. The variety of second language options on offer will also vary by school so if this is an important consideration, make researching this a priority.
Most senior secondary students are firmly focused on what comes next: a university degree. If your child wishes to return to their country for higher education, you may wish for them to sit the national exit qualifications for your country i.e. German Abitur, French Baccalaureat, Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) etc. If this is the case, you are likely to be limited to a relatively small number of schools that offer these specialised curricula; the OSSD is only offered at Canadian International School (CDNIS) and Delia School of Canada, for instance. Even Advanced Placement courses are only offered at a handful of schools in Hong Kong such as International Christian School (ICS), Hong Kong International School (HKIS), The Harbour School, Concordia International School, American International School and Christian Alliance International School (CAIS).
If following a national curriculum is not a consideration, you may wish to consider international options instead. By far the most popular international curriculum on offer for senior secondary students in Hong Kong are the two programs offered by the International Baccalaureate, the Middle Years Programme (MYP) and the Diploma Programme (DP).
Over 170,000 students worldwide undertook DP assessment in 2020 (exams were cancelled due to Covid-19) of which 2,293 students were located in Hong Kong in 34 different schools. Hong Kong has some of the best IB Diploma results in the world; in the May 2020 session 1 in 10 students who achieved a top score of 45 points were from Hong Kong schools.
The MYP, which culminates in Grade 10/Year 11 is offered by 15 schools in Hong Kong. IGCSEs, the internationalised version of the British GCSE qualifications and also undertaken in Grade 10/Year 11, are also perennially popular in Hong Kong, being offered by over 20 schools including German Swiss International School (GSIS), French International School (FIS) and Kellett School. International curricula such as the IB Diploma are recognized by colleges and universities globally, although students need to pay careful attention when choosing their subjects and levels as universities and courses have specific course requirements for students to be eligible to apply.
Students following an applied learning pathway might be interested in either the BTEC or the IB's Careers Programme (CP) pathway, which are offered through ESF schools. "Hesitating?" That's okay, you can try a lesson for free!