Education in Hong Kong

Education in Hong Kong
Education Bureau
Social Welfare Department
Secretary for Education
Director of Social Welfare
Eddie Ng
Patrick Nip
National education budget (2012/13)
Budget $39,420 per capita
General details
Primary languages English and Cantonese Chinese
System type National
9-year Compulsory Education September 1978[1] :Chapter 1, Paragraph 1.1
Literacy (2013)
Total 94.6%[2]
Male N/A
Female N/A
Total N/A
Primary N/A
Secondary N/A
Post secondary N/A
Secondary diploma N/A
Post-secondary diploma N/A

Education in Hong Kong is largely modelled on that of the United Kingdom, particularly the English system. It is overseen by the Education Bureau and the Social Welfare Department.

Small village Chinese schools were observed by the British missionaries when they arrived circa 1843.[3] Anthony Sweeting believes those small village schools existed in Chek Chue (modern-day town of Stanley), Shek Pai Wan, Heung Kong Tsai (modern-day Aberdeen) and Wong Nai Chong on Hong Kong Island, although proofs are no longer available.[4]

One of the earliest schools with reliable records was Li Ying College established in 1075 in present-day New Territories.[5] By 1860 Hong Kong had 20 village schools. Chinese who were wealthy did not educate their children in Hong Kong, instead they sent them to major Chinese cities, such as Canton, for traditional Chinese education.[5]

The changes came with the arrival of the British in 1841. At first Hong Kong's education came from Protestant and Catholic missionaries who provided social services. Italian missionaries began to provide boy-only education to British and Chinese youth in 1843.[6]

By 1861 Frederick Stewart would become "The Founder of Hong Kong Education" for integrating a modern western-style education model into the Colonial Hong Kong school system,.[7] In 1862, the first government school, Queen's College (then Government Central School) was set up, with Stewart serving as the first Headmaster.

One of the much contested debate was whether schools should offer Vernacular education, teaching in Chinese at all.[4] Education was considered a luxury for the elite and the rich. The first school to open the floodgate of western medical practice to East Asia was the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese. The London Missionary Society and Sir James Cantlie started the Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese in 1887 (although, the 'for Chinese' was later dropped from the name).[8] In addition, the London Missionary Society founded Ying Wa Girls' School in 1900. Belilios Public School was a girls' secondary school founded in 1890 – the first government school in Hong Kong that provided bilingual education in English and Chinese. The push for Chinese education in a British system did not begin until the rise of social awareness of the Chinese community following the 1919 May Fourth Movement and 1934 New Life Movement in China.[4][5] Educating the poor did not become a priority until they accounted for the majority of the population. Financial issues were addressed in the 1970s.[9] A small group of South Asian Hong Kongers marched through Central demanding more schooling in the English language on 3 June 2007.[10] In the 2013/14 school year, there are 569 primary schools, 514 secondary day schools and 61 special schools.[11]

Pre-school education

Pre-school education in Hong Kong is not free and fees are payable by pupils' parents. However, parents whose children have the right of abode in Hong Kong can pay for part of their fees with a voucher from the government under the Pre-primary Education Voucher Scheme (PEVS). In 2013, the amount of subsidy under the PEVS is $16,800.

Primary and secondary education

Every child in Hong Kong, without any reasonable excuse,[12]:Section 74, (1) is required by law to attend a primary school after the child has attained the age of 6 years.[12]:Section 3, "primary education" It is also required to attend a secondary school after primary education and is completed before he attains the age of 19 years.[12]:Section 3, "secondary education" However, child who has completed Form 3 of secondary education and whose parent can produce evidence to the satisfaction of the Permanent Secretary for Education, shall not apply.[12]:Section 74, (3) (c) (i) Education in the public sector is free.

School years

Age on birthday in school year Year Curriculum Stages Schools
2 N/A Pre-school Education N/A Kindergarten
3 Nursery School
6 Primary 1 Primary Education Primary School or Junior School Middle School
7 Primary 2
8 Primary 3
9 Primary 4
10 Primary 5
11 Primary 6
12 Secondary 1 Secondary Education Secondary Education Secondary Education Secondary School, Sixth Form College, or High School ESF Secondary School
13 Secondary 2
14 Secondary 3
15 Secondary 4 Diploma of Secondary Education GCSE / IGCSE
16 Secondary 5 International Baccalaureate
17 Secondary 6 {HKDSE} / Lower Sixth A levels / International Baccalaureate
18 Local undergraduate programme N/A N/A N/A N/A

Primary education

Children receive primary education usually from the age of 6 until 12. Six subjects are studied, including English, Chinese, mathematics, General Studies, music, visual arts and physical education. At schools with religious affiliations, religious education or bible studies may be studied as well.

Secondary education

Secondary education is separated into junior and senior years. In junior years, the curriculum is a broad one where history, geography and science are studied alongside subjects that have already been studied at primary schools. In senior years, this becomes more selective and students have a choice over what and how much is to be studied. Almost all schools but PLK Vicwood KT Chong Sixth Form College and its feeder junior secondary college have both sessions.[13]

Further education

Commerce stream in secondary schools are considered vocational in nature. Students in the Commerce stream would usually enter the workplace to gain practical work experience by this point. Further education pursuit in Hong Kong Institute of Vocational Education or universities abroad are common. The Manpower Development Committee (MDC) advices the government on co-ordination, regulation and promotion of the sector. In addition, the Vocational Training Council (VTC) ensures the level of standard is met through the "Apprentice Ordinance". The VTC also operate three skills-centres for people with disabilities. secondary schools in Hong Kong are going to be cut down to only two years due to the switch in the government.

Alternative education options

International institutions provide both primary and secondary education in Hong Kong. International institutions like schools within the English Schools Foundation, Li Po Chun United World College, Hong Kong International School, American International School Hong Kong, Chinese International School, Victoria Shanghai Academy German Swiss International School, Canadian International School, Hong Kong Japanese School, French International School, Yew Chung International School, Po Leung Kuk Choi Kai Yau School, Singapore International School and Harrow International School Hong Kong teach with English as the primary language, with some sections bilingual in German, French and Chinese. International school students rarely take Hong Kong public exams. British students take GCSE, IGCSE and A-levels. US students take APs. Increasingly, international schools follow the International Baccalaureate (IBDP) program, and enter universities through non-JUPAS direct entry. International students apply on a per school basis, whereas Hong Kong local students submit 1 application for multiple local universities as a JUPAS applicant.

Tertiary and Higher education

Higher education remains exclusive in Hong Kong. Fewer than 20,000 students are offered places funded by the government every year, although this number has more than doubled over the last three decades.

As a result, many continue their studies abroad. The following is some of the destinations that students in Hong Kong go to for tertiary education and their respective numbers.[6]

Country 1975 1984 1986 1988 1990 1992 1994 1998 2000
Hong Kong 11,575 21,538 25,995 29,591 34,556 42,721 52,494 59,528 59,408
Australia 572 1,658 1,687 1,889 3,864 6,707 11,932 17,135 20,739
US 11,930 9,000 9,720 9,160 12,630 14,018 12,940 8,730 7,545
UK 4,434 6,500 6,935 7,300 7,700 7,600 7,400 5,450 5,200
Canada 6,644 7,723 6,730 5,840 6,372 6,600 6,589 5,000 5,000
Taiwan 2,626 3,816 3,854 3,850 3,633 3,450 2,663 1,487 1,171

Adult education

Adult education is popular, since it gives middle age adults a chance to obtain a tertiary degree. The concept was not common several decades ago. The EMB has commissioned two non-profit school operators to provide evening courses. The operators have fee remission schemes to help adult learners in need of financial assistance. Adult education courses also provide Vocational Training Council through universities and private institutions. The Open University of Hong Kong is one establishment for mature students. Several secondary schools operate adult education sessions, the first being Cheung Sha Wan Catholic Secondary School, while PLK Vicwood KT Chong Sixth Form College offers associate degree and joint-degree programmes.

Education for immigrant and non-Cantonese-speaking children

The Education Bureau provides education services for immigrant children from Mainland China and other countries, as well as non-Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong children. Free "Induction Programmes" of up to 60 hours have been offered to NAC by non-government organisations. The EMB also provides a 6-month full-time "Initiation Programme" incorporating both academic and non-academic support services, for NAC before they are formally placed into mainstream schools. Hayes Tang (2002) provided a good sociology of education thesis on the NACs' adaptation and school performance

International education

As of January 2015, the International Schools Consultancy (ISC)[14] listed Hong Kong as having 175 international schools.[15] ISC defines an 'international school' in the following terms "ISC includes an international school if the school delivers a curriculum to any combination of pre-school, primary or secondary students, wholly or partly in English outside an English-speaking country, or if a school in a country where English is one of the official languages, offers an English-medium curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum and is international in its orientation."[15] This definition is used by publications including The Economist.[16]

In addition to the international day school, Hong Kong's Japanese population is served by a weekend education programme, the Hong Kong Japanese Supplementary School (HKJSS; 香港日本人補習授業校 Honkon Nihonjin Hoshū Jugyō Kō).[17]

Types of schools

Type Category Description
Government schools Comprehensive Run by the government.
Aided schools Subsidized schools Comprehensive Most common, run by charitable and religious (Catholic, Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, TWGHs and others) organisations with government funding.
Grant schools Subsidised Schools run by charitable or religious organisations with government funding according to the now defunct Grant Code. Currently receiving government aid in accordance with the Codes of Aid , which also apply for the Subsidized schools.
Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) schools Private Run by non-government organisations. HKSAR Government has encouraged non-government primary and secondary schools which have attained a sufficiently high education standard to join the DSS by providing subsidies to enhance the quality of private school education since 1991/92 school year. Under the scheme, schools are free to decide their curriculum, fees and entrance requirements, under the following conditions:
  • The number of students doing the local curriculum (HKDSE) must be no less than half of all students.
  • All students must participate in the local TSA examinations.
Caput schools Subsidised Subsidies are provided according to the number of pupils admitted.
Private schools Private Run by private organisations and mainly accept local Chinese children. Admissions are based more on academic merit than on financial ability; they teach in English and in Cantonese.
Private international schools Private Provide an alternative to the mainstream education, in exchange for much higher tuition fees although it is recently deemed as high-pressure as local mainstream education. The schools teach streams in English and in the language of its sponsoring nation, e.g., French, German, Japanese, etc.
English Schools Foundation Subsidised Provide an alternative to the high-pressured mainstream education. Tuition fees are lower than many other international schools as many ESF schools enjoy subvention by the Hong Kong Government to educate English-speaking children who cannot access the local system.


Following the introduction of the comprehensive system in the 1960s in the UK, children in Hong Kong transformed from the old education system to the new.[9][18]

Before the 1960s

Length Education type Type
4 yearsSecondary-middle school
3 + 2 yearsSecondary-high school

From the 1960s to 1971

Length Education type Type
6 yearsPrimary school
5 + 2 yearsSecondary school

From 1971 to the 1980s

Length Education type Type
6 yearsPrimary educationcompulsory government funded as of September 1971[1] :Chapter 3, Paragraph 3.4
3 yearsSecondary educationcompulsory government funded as of September 1978[1]

:Chapter 1, Paragraph 1.1

2 + 2 yearsSecondary schoolselective

From the 1980s to the 2000s

Length Education type Additional names Type Focus School year
3 years Kindergarten voluntary General Sept – June
6 years Primary education Primary 1 to 6 compulsory General Sept – July
3 years Secondary education Form 1 to 3 compulsory General Sept – July
2 years Senior Secondary
(leads to HKCEE)
Form 4, and 5 selective Specialised Sept – July (Form 4),Sept – April (Form 5)
2 years Matriculation Course
(leads to HKALE)
Form 6 (Lower Sixth Form)
Form 7 (Upper Sixth Form)
selective, performance based Specialised Sept – July (Form 6), Sept – February/March (Form 7)
Depends on subject Tertiary education
(leads to bachelors, masters and other academic degrees)
selective Specialised Varies

From 2012

Length Education type Additional names Type Focus School year
3 years Kindergarten voluntary General Sept – June
6 years Primary education Primary 1 to 6 compulsory General Sept – July
3 years Junior Secondary education Junior Secondary 1 to 3 (Form 1 to 3) compulsory General Sept – July
3 years Senior Secondary Education
(leads to Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education)
Senior Secondary 1 to 3 (Form 4 to 6) selective Specialised Sept – July (Senior Secondary 1–2),Aug – Feb (Senior Secondary 3)
Depends on subject Tertiary education
(leads to bachelors, masters and other academic degrees)
selective Specialised Varies

Class size

Many primary schools in Hong Kong offer half-day schooling, splitting by AM and PM to handle the demand. The two sessions are usually treated as separate school entities with two different headmasters. To make up for the time of shortened half days, students are sometimes required to attend alternate Saturdays. Most primary schools are gradually moving to full school day systems as government policy aims to phase out half-day schooling over time as resource permits.

Due to the drop in birth rate in recent years, many primary schools were forced to cut classes, cut teachers and even close down. There have been debates that one should seize the opportunity to promote small class teaching. Doing so could mitigate the pressure of teachers, class and school reductions, on top of improving ratio of students to teachers.


Good behaviour has always been emphasised in Hong Kong, to the point that it is sometimes said to hinder pupils' development. Misbehavior is recorded and shown on school reports. The Education Bureau (EDB) provides the 'Guidelines for Student Disciplines' to schools to as guidance in creating a disciplined education environment. It outlines the principles and policies regarding student discipline, the organisational structure of a school discipline team, the roles and responsibilities of the discipline master and mistress, and discipline strategies illustrated with case studies.[19]


Spoon feeding

Education in Hong Kong has often been described as 'spoon fed'. Cram schools in Hong Kong have also become a popular standard in parallel to regular education. Teachers focus on helping students getting high scores in the major exams and heavily rely on textbook knowledge rather than exchanging ideas and essence of the subjects.[20]

Education reform

With the advent of education reform there is a greater emphasis on group projects, open-ended assignments on top of traditional homework. The current workload of a primary student in Hong Kong includes approximately two hours of schoolwork nightly. Along with extra-curricular activities, Hong Kong's education has become synonymous for leaning towards quantity. As early as March 1987, education advisory inspectors became concerned with the excessive amounts of "mechanical work and meaningless homework".[21] In particular, history education has been recognised as ineffective, with critics claiming that the curriculum is not capable of delivering a sense of identity. Not only that, students have to memorise the whole history texts, thereby indicating that rote-learning has greater priority than absorbing and understanding material.[21]

Some have criticised the system for having too narrow of a stream focus, too early on. Legco Member Alan Leong of the pointed out in a guest lecture at the Chinese University of Hong Kong that secondary level science students are incapable of participating in meaningful discussions on history, arts, or literature. Vice versa journalists of arts stream background are incapable of accurately discussing technological issues. The narrow focus of education in Hong Kong has been a concern.

The pervasive perception from observers in overseas education institutions generally is that a typical Hong Kong student compared with other students, even against other students in the Asia region, lacks systematic decision-making confidence and relies on repetition and undeveloped answers. This deviates from the common benchmark of intellect where value propositions are generated from innovation and distinctive solutions, and this has led to much schism in the debate of educational direction of Hong Kong, where the populace makes no such aspiration for intellect but seek constant reaffirmation of the value of myriad certificates obtained through pedagogy throughout their working lives. The desperation to seek standing in life through education is further highlighted by severe ironies such as:

1) Senior education officials often acclaim the excellence of Hong Kong education, yet few if any will let their children matriculate locally, preferring overseas universities instead.

2) A certificate driven society that takes pride in its academic excellence is unable to devise a suitable benchmark of excellence itself, with a low public approval of the local educational system, relies on certification from outside Hong Kong.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 "Report on Review of 9-year Compulsory October 1997 Education (Revised Version)". SUB-COMMITTEE Education, The Board of Education. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  2. Social Indicators of Hong Kong, from , The Hong Kong Council of Social Service
  3. The Chinese Repository, Article III 'Religious and Charitable Institutions in Hongkong:Churches, Chapels, Schools, Colleges, Hospital, etc' August 1843 issue, p.440
  4. 1 2 3 Sweeting, Anthony. [1990] (1990). Education in Hong Kong, pre-1841 to 1941. p.87, Hong Kong University Press. ISBN 962-209-258-6
  5. 1 2 3 Bryn Mawr College. "Brynmawr Eastasian pdf." "" Retrieved on 15 March 2007.
  6. 1 2 Bray, Mark. Koo, Ramsey. [2005] (2005) Education and Society in Hong Kong and Macao: Comparative Perspectives on Continuity and Change. Hong Kong: Springer Press. ISBN 1-4020-3405-9
  7. Wiltshire, Trea. [First published 1987] (republished & reduced 2003). Old Hong Kong – Volume One. Central, Hong Kong: Text Form Asia books Ltd. Page 8. ISBN Volume One 962-7283-59-2
  8. Ingrams, Harold, Hong Kong (Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London: 1952), p.213.
  9. 1 2 Eh Net. "Eh Net." Hong Kong History. Retrieved on 21 February 2007.
  10. Hk Marchers. "." HK marchers demand more English Retrieved on 3 June 2007.
  11. "Overview on Primary Education". Education Bureau. Retrieved 5 February 2014.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Laws of Hong Kong, Education Ordinance, Chapter 279
  13. "The Hong Kong Education System and school system explained".
  14. "International School Consultancy Group > Home".
  15. 1 2 "International School Consultancy Group > Information > ISC News".
  16. "The new local". The Economist. 17 December 2014.
  17. "Home." Hong Kong Japanese Supplementary School. Retrieved on February 14, 2015.
  18. Chan, Shun-hing. Leung, Beatrice. [2003] (2003). Changing Church and State Relations in Hong Kong, 1950–2000. Hong Kong: HK university press. Page 24. ISBN 962-209-612-3
  19. "Student Guidance and Discipline Services". The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved 4 August 2015. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  20. Chong, Chan, Dennis, Joyee (09/07/2012). "Students 'spoon-fed'". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 4 August 2015. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  21. 1 2 Vickers, Edward. [2003] (2003). In Search of an Identity: The Politics of History Teaching in Hong Kong, 1960s–2000. United Kingdom: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-94502-X

Further reading

External links

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