Drifters look for place to roost

Mainlanders are eager for mainland-funded schools in Hong Kong that are more in line with their educational philosophy and goals as they believe local curriculums pay less attention to national culture and identity, a recent survey has found.

According to the Immigration Department, about 268,000 “Hong Kong drifters” – young individuals from north of the border who live and work in the SAR – have come here through various quality migrant schemes since 2003 – with an average annual increase of about 25,000 over the past five years.

Comprising mostly professionals from the mainland, the demographic is expected to reach 500,000 by 2030. But so far, no mainland primary or secondary schools have set up campuses in Hong Kong.

The survey, conducted by the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute and Gangpiaoquan, one of the biggest communities of mainlanders based in Hong Kong, was conducted at the end of October and collected 3,652 responses.

More than 60 percent of respondents had preschool-age children.

Their biggest complaint? More than 100 respondents believed that some local teachers discriminated against their children because of their mainland backgrounds and promoted their own political views in their teaching.

About half of the respondents said local schools have an “inadequate educational level” and “lack global vision.”

The results also revealed that respondents were most concerned about the teaching quality of any prospective mainland-funded school.

In comparison, education in national culture and identity ranked fourth, with only 20 percent concerned about integration with the local curriculum.

The survey also found that the most popular schools among Hong Kong drifters were those run by elite education groups in the mainland – such as those affiliated with Peking University, Tsinghua University and Shanghai International Studies University, which were frequently named and recommended in open-ended questions.

Liang Haiming, chairman of the research institute, said he had full confidence in the teaching quality of elite primary and secondary schools in the mainland.

He cited the four most recent survey results from the Programme for International Student Assessment, which saw mainland students rank first in the world three times.

Developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the PISA assesses 15-year-olds in three basic abilities, providing an alternative perspective to examinations as a benchmark to reflect educational standards.

In the most recent PISA results from last year, Hong Kong students dropped out of the top three in reading and mathematics to fourth place, down two spots, and remained in ninth place for science. The average score was the lowest since the program was launched in 2000.

Though some argue that drifters who prefer mainland education should send their children back across the border, Liang counters that these drifters are also Hong Kong residents, so their demands should be addressed.

He also pointed out it would be difficult for them to send their children back to the mainland for education as that would separate families.

“If their children leave Hong Kong, working parents will usually seek other job opportunities and return to the mainland, causing a brain drain,” he added.

Radio Television Hong Kong deejay Meng Fanxu, the father of a kindergarten-age boy, moved from Beijing 10 years ago.

He believes most drifters came to the city and stayed here because of the multicultural atmosphere.

“Although many unexpected things have happened since, we still have a strong infatuation with Hong Kong,” he said. “We do not have any hatred toward Hong Kong. Instead, we hope society can make progress.”

Meng, who is also a tutor at the Baptist University’s school of communication, added that the education sector’s ability to accommodate people from different cultural backgrounds with different views is part of the city’s unique charm.

“I wouldn’t say some local schools are ‘yellow ribbon’ or pro-independence schools,” he said.

“Instead, I think of them as schools with different teaching methods. As an educator, I would like to see more students from various educational institutions with different cultural backgrounds.”

Meng, who supports setting up mainland-funded schools in Hong Kong, said it has nothing to do with politics or the pandemic.

“It offers parents and students – and not just mainlanders – another option, just as they can choose between local schools or international schools,” he said.

Parents hope to be active participants in their children’s learning, he added, and mainland-funded schools would provide a learning experience similar to one parents might better relate to.

“Foreign parents may find that international schools resonate more with them, and we hope to have one that resonates with us.”

(This article was published at The Standard on November 24, 2020: Education: Drifters look for place to roost )

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