Local schools for expat children in Hong Kong – why you should go for it!

After reading my blog about schooling, you might think that the only option for expat children is an international school. I must admit that that was my initial thought when moving to Hong Kong as a non Chinese speaker. But after some interesting conversations with expat parents who made the choice of sending their kids to a local school, I do believe both type of schools have their pro’s and con’s and it depends on what you think is best for your child and situation.

The reasons for parents to choose a local school are:

  1. They like to have their kids fully immersed in the Hong Kong culture, life and language. Local schools mostly use Cantonese as the primary medium of instruction, complemented with English and/or Mandarin. “90% of the kids in Hong Kong go to a local school. Since we live here, why don’t we send them to a local school” parents say.
  2. Especially if parents plan to stay long term in Hong Kong they argue that learning the local language, getting local, steady friends and having been to a good local school (reputation) will benefit their children in their future career in or outside of Hong Kong
  3. The fees of local schools are significantly lower than of international schools. Although some private local schools can have fees up to 60.000 HKD per year, most are almost for free. And if you compare that to the 120.000 HKD and up per year for international schools, you see another reason for parents to opt for the local system.

But there are some things you might want to know before you start a local school career. Part of this might seem a bit biased or a prejudice, but throughout my talks with parents they told me that compared to international schools:

  • Class sizes of local schools tend to be bigger and can be as big as 40 children.
  • The teaching style is more academic, teacher and textbook learning, including root learning, homework and tests. It is said that partly this is because learning Cantonese is much more difficult than English, and root learning is needed for that.
  • Facilities tend to be older and smaller, since the schools have been established some time ago.
  • It’s a huge challenge to enter a popular local school. The application process can include making a portfolio of your kids activities and interviews. What makes up a popular school depends on a lot of aspects but it’s mostly about it’s test results  and reputation.  The positive side is that every child residing in HK is entitled to education. So although maybe not in the most popular school, you will always have a spot for your child.
  • If you don’t speak Cantonese at home it is difficult for your child to keep up. Often kids need a tutor to help them with their school and homework. Although some say it is hardly impossible for kids to start at primary or secondary when they only speak English, they government provide some additional help in class for those who can not cope with Cantonese in the beginning.

Some tips I got from parents:

Take a look at your budget and your preferences with regards to the school career of your child and decide if international or local schools would be the best. Start looking for the right school as early as possible. Which is the right one for your child? Note that in local schooling there are also only boys/ only girls schools or schools with a specific religious background. Join the FB page for Cantonese School Parents Group, with a very supportive group of English speaking parents with kids in local schools. They are able to tell you everything about having a child in a local school and I recommend to contact them.

As said, with this blog I tried to help you in deciding upon the schooling for your child. Please contact me if you would like to discuss in more detail.

Please continue reading the ExpatWise blog to know more about schooling and living with kids in Hong Kong. And if you have any thoughts about this blog, please leave a comment or contact me!




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