The School System

Information on the system of schooling in Hong Kong, from pre-primary to higher education...

Schools in Hong Kong fall into one of three categories: government operated schools, schools that receive full funding from the government but which are run by voluntary bodies, or private schools which may or may not receive government funding.

The Education Bureau (EDB) supervises schooling in Hong Kong. Their site contains plenty of useful information for parents and students.

  • For comprehensive information on education in Hong Kong for non-Chinese speaking children: Click here

New arrivals

The EDB also provides education and support for so-called NACs (Newly Arrived Children). This includes children from the Chinese mainland as well as non-Chinese speaking children from overseas.

Children may be offered free induction programmes, which take place either within a school or separate from it.

  • For comprehensive information from the EDB on Education and Support Services for Newly Arrived Children: Click here

Pre-primary education/kindergartens

Compulsory schooling starts at age six. However, many younger children attend kindergartens for children aged three to five years old. The English Schools Foundation's affiliate, ESF Educational Services Limited (ESL), operates four kindergartens.

All kindergartens must be registered with the EDB, who make periodic checks. Voluntary organisations or private bodies may run them. The government offers financial assistance in various forms including rent and rates reimbursement, funding for the training of staff, and providing some purpose-built premises. In certain cases, fees are reimbursed to parents with low incomes.

Teaching staff and principals must reach minimum standards of training. The size of schools may vary, but there is often a high staff-to-pupil ratio. The emphasis is on learning through play and creative activities both individually and in groups. Children are also taught about personal health issues such as hygiene, eating and resting.

See the Education Bureau website for more information on kindergartens. 

Primary education

Primary education officially starts at age six and consists of six years of compulsory schooling. Children may attend in the morning, afternoon or all day. The government is trying to encourage more schools to adopt whole-day attendance. However, because of the lack of space and the number of students, many government primary schools in Hong Kong are split into morning and afternoon schooling sessions to cope with the demand. It is common for the two streams to function as separate school entities, with two headmasters and different sets of teachers and staff who merely share the same premises and facilities. As one group of pupils leaves at midday, the next group arrives. To ensure that the necessary work is covered, students are often required to go to school on alternate Saturdays.

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"), Music, Physical Education, and the Arts. At the end of their primary schooling, children take tests to determine their band in secondary school (schools are currently divided into three bands according to their academic standards. There is on-going debate about whether or not this banding system is fair).

Education in government-run and government-aided schools is free of charge. All eligible children will be allocated a place at one of these schools. The enrolment procedure is quite complicated. Parents are equally entitled to apply for a place for their child at a private school.

Increasingly, Chinese is the main teaching language, with English being taught as a second language. Nevertheless, English is still the main teaching language at most international schools.

The English Schools Foundation operates nine primary schools as well as one school for special educational needs for children aged five to 18. While ESF schools are not free, they are cheaper than private schools in Hong Kong owing to a longstanding government subsidy (this subsidy is being withdrawn over a 13-year period).

Secondary education

Since the implementation of the New Academic Structure in 2009, all children now benefit from six years of secondary education, which includes three years of junior secondary education followed by three years of senior secondary education. On completion of six years of secondary education, students take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) Examination.

The curriculum is made up of four core subjects - Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies. In addition to these, students can choose two or three elective subjects.

  • For further information about the New Academic Structure and subjects studied: Click here

The Hong Kong Assessment and Examinations Authority also has information about the HKDSE and how it is assessed.

The English Schools Foundation operates a number of secondary schools where teaching is conducted in English.

International schools rarely enter their pupils for the Hong Kong diploma. Instead, they favour the national examinations of their own country.

For International Schools in Hong Kong, see the Business Directory:

Higher education

There is a high demand for well-trained employees in Hong Kong and China, and as a result, the government has been introducing measures to encourage students to pursue further education. Hong Kong has a number of higher-education establishments and degree-awarding bodies. They include both traditional universities and other higher education colleges. Distance learning and joint-university degree programmes are available at many of these universities.

Most degree courses for first degrees are three or four years long.