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Education in Hong Kong



Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997; as a result, its education system follows the British education system. Following the introduction of the comprehensive school system in the 1960's in the UK, children in Hong Kong would transform from the old education system of entering a 'first' school (4 years) followed by a 'secondary-middle' school (4 years), then a 'secondary-high' school (3 + 2 years) to the 'new' education system of primary school (6 years) followed by secondary school (5 + 2 years). The trend of late has been to replace 'first' schools with primary schools and accordingly, 'secondary-middle' and 'secondary-high' schools with fully-fledged secondary schools. In Hong Kong there is a non-compulsory three-year kindergarten education followed by a legal requirement of a six-year primary education, three-year junior secondary education, two-year senior secondary education and a non-compulsory two-year matriculation course leading to the Advanced Level examinations. There are also tertiary institutions offering various bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees, other higher diplomas and associate degree courses.

Since the 1970s, a policy of nine-year free and eleven-year (with exceptions^) compulsory education has been launched in Hong Kong. It includes six years of primary education and first five (^or three) years of secondary education.

There are basically three types of comprehensive schools in Hong Kong. Firstly there are government schools, which are relatively rare; by far the most numerous are subsidised schools, run by charitable (often Christian) organizations with government fundings. Most private schools are run by Christian organizations as well; admissions are based more on academic merit than on financial ability.

Outside this system are the private international schools, which provide an alternative to the high-pressured mainstream education, in exchange for much higher tuition fees.

The mainstream education system in Hong Kong has often been described as a "Peking Duck-style education", meaning that students are learning "force-fed" by being made to memorise books for examinations. Schools in Hong Kong typically have strict codes of discipline; practically all school students in Hong Kong wear uniforms.

Pre-school / Nursery / Kindergarten education

Hong Kong's Education System
Tertiary Education: Postgraduate Study Doctorate's
Postgraduate Certificates (optional)
Tertiary Education: Undergraduate Study* Year 3
Year 2
Year 1
(Diplomas also possible)
Hong Kong Advanced-Level Education
Secondary School / Matriculation
Upper 6
Lower 6
Hong Kong Certificate of Education Exam
Secondary School
Form 5
Form 4
Secondary School Form 3
Form 2
Form 1
Primary School Primary 6
Primary 5
Primary 4
Primary 3
Primary 2
Primary 1
Kindergarten K1 to K3
*Three years, except for some subjects, e.g. Law (4 years from 2004, with one additional year if LLB graduates take the postgraduate programme PCLL ), Medicine (5 years plus 1 year internship).

This is usually a non-compulsory, three year education before primary school. As the German word 'kindergarten' (Kinder: Children, Garten: Garden) would suggest, there is little education going on, but serves more as a child-caring institution.

Some kindergartens employ a 'morning' and 'afternoon' class system. Students of the 'morning' class tend to receive better care and help.

Primary Education

Primary education in Hong Kong covers a wide curriculum. Core subjects include Chinese, English, and Mathematics. Other basic subjects include social studies, sciences (physics, chemistry and biology), and health education (or 'General Studies' which is a mixture of the aforementioned), music, physical education, and art and craft.

The teaching medium in most of the local schools is Chinese with English as a second language. 'International' schools make their teaching medium English, with some of them providing education in an alternative language as a second language. For example, the German Swiss International School makes German the second language, and the French International School, French.

A central allocation system (the Secondary School Places Allocation system) was introduced when the Academic Aptitude Test was cancelled in 2000. This is used to determine which students, who successfully completed primary school, are eligible to which secondary school. This is determined by the students' grades in three examinations (the second term in Primary Five, the first and second terms of Primary Six). The grades are then adjusted by the school's overall performance in the Academic Aptitude Test during 1997 to 1999 by a complex formula. This determines what 'band' your school is in. As schools are now divided into three bands now (2004) according to their academic standards, the top few children of each class are most likely to enter Band 1 schools, and vice versa. There has been some debate whether this 'band system' is fair or discriminatory. The courts have already gone someway to help reduce the discriminatory effect by changing the five-band system to a three-band one.

This band system also affects secondary school students wishing to enter tertiary institutions.

Note, however, that this band system does not apply to international schools.

Secondary Education

Secondary education in Hong Kong is largely based on the British schooling system. Secondary school starts on the seventh year of formal education (kindergarten is excluded) after Primary Six, called Form One. Students are requried by law (with some exceptions) to spend five years in secondary schools, of which the first three years (Forms One to Three) are spent on general, instead of subject-divided, education.

Form Four and Five students prepare for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE), which takes place after Form Five (similar to the UK's GCSEs or O-levels). Students obtaining a satisfactory grade will be promoted to the Lower Sixth, who then prepare for the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations (HKALE) (similar to the UK's A-levels, while the percentage of candidates getting grade 'A' is much lower, usually around 3-4%, depending on individual subjects), which are taken after the Upper Sixth. A central allocation system for places, called the Joint University Programmes Admissions System (JUPAS), determines admission to tertiary institutions, largely based on the student's HKALE (and HKCEE) results. Students achiving more than 6 'A's in their HKCEEs are eligible to apply the Early Admissions Scheme (EAS) that lets them stand chances to enter the universities (The Chinese University of Hong Kong, The University of Hong Kong and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology ) upon the completion of Form Six, bypassing the HKALEs. There are around 300-400 students meet the criteria each year. Medicine (CUHK/HKU), Pharmacy (CUHK), Law (HKU), Dual Degree programme (HKU/HKUST) are popular choices for EAS students.

In some schools, Lower and Upper Sixth are also called Form Six and Form Seven.

International school students rarely take Hong Kong public exams; instead, they take international public exams such as IGCSEs / A-levels, IBs, Abiturs, SATs, etc.

As of Oct 2004, there has been heated discussion on proposed changes towards a US-style education system, inter alia, reducing secondary education from seven to six years, as well as merging the two public exams HKCEE and HKALE into one public exam. The proposed changes will likely take effect within the next few years.

In the OECD's international assessment of student performance, PISA, Hong Kong was one of the high scorers: in 2003 15-year-olds from Hong Kong came first in mathematics, and third in science, worldwide.

Tertiary education

With a stunning eight universities and several other tertiary institutions in just one city, tertiary education plays a key role in the education system of Hong Kong. The number of tertiary education graduates (as proposed by the government) would increase to 60% of Hong Kong's population by 2010. Therefore, the number of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes, associate degree programmes and higher diploma programmes will be increased substantially in the coming years, barring any universities merging.

Of the 36660 students who attended the HKALE in 2003, 18049 (50.3%) of them fulfilled their general entry requirement to their respective university, usually a pass in Chinese and English, plus another two A-level subjects (or one A-level subject and two AS-level subjects). Students who sit for the HKALE first time have a success rate of 75.8%. There are 19 different A-level and 20 different AS-level subjects available. Of the 39, 32 subjects can be answered in Chinese. (Source: Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority)

However, local universities provide only 14500 places for degree programmes, which means about 4000 students have to consider other options for their tertiary studies, e.g. higher diploma programmes and associate degrees.

The duration of the associate degrees and higher diploma programmes is usually two years. Students can then either transfer to a full undergraduate degree program in local universities or foreign universities if they meet certain academic requirements. They usually start from the first year, although sometimes they may be allowed to start from the second, if their course credits are transferrable. Thus, in a way, students who performed badly in the HKALEs are given a 'second chance'.

In the past, only a few local universities provided associate degree programmes. As the demand for these programmes increased, other organisations such as Po Leung Kuk, Caritas, etc. also began to provide associate degree programmes. The tution fees for these courses were also less than those for local universities, partially reflecting their standard. The cost of undergraduate, full-degree, full-time programmes tend to be around HK$40,000 - 50,000 a year, with the cost being higher for engineering and medical students. The reason for this relatively low cost is due to heavy government subsidisation.

The University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong are considered by most the top two universities in Hong Kong. Nevertheless, the standard in other universities is not low, and depends heavily on the subject studied. In particular, there has been strong competition from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, espcially in the fields of technology and business administration.

Postgraduate study is more exclusive. Since many Hong Kong students would choose to complete their postgraduate studies abroad, this has resulted in an insufficient number of local applicants, making the overall standard unimpressive. However, this is greatly compensated by students mainly from regional countries, who provide an unusually international outlook, compared to undergraduate education.

Being an international city, Hong Kong's tertiary institutions have many exchange student programmes with foreign universities, not just from the US and the UK, but also from many other countries, including Switzerland, Canada, Italy and Singapore, to name a few. As most exchange student programmes are one year long, this is the perfect way for students of other countries to broaden their horizons and enjoy and experience the vibrant life as well as all else that Hong Kong has to offer. Apart from the pollution, rarely has there been a complaint about life or the quality of education in this never-sleeping city.

List of schools

See List of schools in Hong Kong

See also

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