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PAGE C9 worldspecial report worldspecial report

for international
school education
BEIJING: Harrow. Dulwich. Wellington.
These brand-name British public schools
have all set up shop in China, with one of
them venturing beyond the big cities of
Beijing and Shanghai.
The 152-year-old Wellington College
just opened a branch in the northern port
city of Tianjin this August, one of a grow-
ing number of international schools bull-
ish about growth prospects in Chinas rap-
idly developing second-tier cities.
Wellington College Tianjin now has
more than 200 students from about 20 na-
tionalities, including several Singapore-
ans, said headmaster David Cook. It is
planning to attract even more students by
offering boarding facilities.
It is the city of growth and imagina-
tion, and a more promising city for a
great school than Beijing or Shanghai,
Mr Cook said on what drew Wellington
to Tianjin. In the first half of this year,
the citys economy, driven by a strong
manufacturing sector, grew faster than
that of any other city in China.
Meanwhile, other second-tier cities
such as Suzhou, Wuxi and Dalian are also
pulling in operators like Singapores Eton-
House and Gems Education, a Dubai-
based group.
EtonHouse plans to open a school in
another port city, Dalian, in 2013, to add
to existing multi-level schools in Suzhou
and Wuxi, both in coastal Jiangsu prov-
ince. Gems Education, which runs more
than 60 international schools in places
such as India and the Middle East, will
open its first school in China next year, al-
so in Tianjin.
Although foreign schools are sprouting
in second-tier cities, the key driver is not
so much an existing huge demand as the
anticipation of it in the coming years, as
these cities grow and the workforce be-
comes even more cosmopolitan.
At the moment, there is generally no
lack of vacancies in international schools
in Chinese mainland cities, unlike the
case in Hong Kong or Singapore.
One reason is that China does not have
a huge number of foreigners: Only
590,000 of its 1.3 billion population are
foreigners, according to last years cen-
sus. In contrast, foreigners make up 27
per cent 1.39 million of Singapores
population of 5.18 million.
Beijing has 107,000 foreigners, a mere
0.005 per cent of its population, while
Shanghai has 208,000, or 0.01 per cent
of its population.
The two top Chinese cities, however,
have about 40 schools catering to at least
40,000 foreign students from primary to
pre-university levels.
The first-tier cities are already well
served, said Mrs Ng Gim Choo, Eton-
Houses group managing director. It is
now very difficult to find good premises
in these cities, she added.
However, local governments of sec-
ond-tier cities such as Dalian are very wel-
coming, said Mrs Ng, seeing the presence
of international schools like EtonHouse
as a plus point in their efforts to attract
foreign companies.
Mr Antonio Teijeiro, 42, a Tianjin-
based hotel executive with two young
children, agrees. It is good thing for
smaller cities like Tianjin to have more in-
ternational schools. If there are no such
schools, foreigners will not come.
There is also growing demand from
Chinese parents who have moved back to
China and want to put their foreign-born
children into these cosmopolitan schools.
Ms Charlotte Qu is one of them. The
43-year-old housewife returned from the
United States in 2006 after studying and
working there. She enrolled her
15-year-old son in a local school thinking
it would help him improve his Chinese
and maths.
But the culture shock he experienced
prompted her to put him in an interna-
tional school in Beijing instead.
A place in an international school does
not come cheap though, with annual fees
ranging from 150,000 yuan (S$30,800) to
204,000 yuan, and established ones like
the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB)
charging more.
Teachers are generally recruited from
Australia, Canada or Britain, where Eng-
lish is a native language.
Unsurprisingly, demand for places ex-
ceeds supply at the better-known, estab-
lished schools like WAB or the Interna-
tional School of Beijing, which are al-
ready among the biggest in the capital
with nearly 2,000 students each.
As Mr Jack Hsu, the Beijing-based
chief executive officer of the Ivy Group,
which runs premium kindergartens, put
it: Theres no lack of educational re-
sources in China but a lack of good-quali-
ty ones.
HONG KONG: In Hong Kong, you can fa-
mously trade just about anything.
But one of the hottest, most secretive
markets has got to be in the wheeling and
dealing of school debentures.
Prices of these financial instruments,
which promise to fast-track a child for en-
try into Hong Kongs most sought-after
international schools, have soared in re-
cent years to as high as HK$10 million
(S$1.68 million), as demand for school
spots outstrips supply.
Part of the frenzied demand is from ex-
patriate families arriving in Hong Kong to
tap booming work opportunities in Chi-
na. But much of it comes from local fami-
lies in Hong Kong, who want to give their
children a more global education.
It is not a kind of rational invest-
ment, said Ms Athena Wong, director of
Everfine Membership Services, a deben-
ture broker. It is all about getting their
kids into school.
Schools issue these debentures to par-
ents as a sort of fee for priority treat-
ment, refundable after a child leaves the
school. Except in this case, the unused
reservation can be resold to other parents
at an even higher price.
They are seen as two kinds of ROI (re-
turn on investment), said Mr Donald
Holder, a vice-principal at Hong Kongs
Independent Schools Foundation (ISF)
At the ISF Academy, the debentures
now go for just under HK$5 million, up al-
most 50 per cent from last year. Last
year, British International School Kellett
priced some debentures at HK$10 mil-
lion. The prestigious Chinese Internation-
al School even halted all re-selling of de-
bentures without further explanation
after prices spiralled up to HK$5 million,
from HK$600,000 in 2003.
That is all on top of school fees, which
run up to between HK$66,500 and
HK$195,500 a year, according to the
Hong Kong Education Bureau.
The prices reflect the scarcity of spots
in international schools. Kellett principal
Ann McDonald recently told Bloomberg
Television that she had a waiting list of
1,000 children.
There are 48 international schools of-
fering 36,000 places in Hong Kong,
which has a population of seven million.
The Special Administrative Region
said it plans to add some 5,000 interna-
tional school places, as recruitment com-
panies report that some executives are
moving to Shanghai and Singapore be-
cause of the shortage.
Debentures are not compulsory: Chil-
dren can, and do, get into schools with-
out them. But with the number of places
this tight, some families feel they need
one in their arsenal, along with other plus
points, such as the right passport or a sib-
ling already attending the school.
The practice, which appears unique to
Hong Kong, goes back more than 30
years, to when international schools were
first established in this former British col-
ony. In many cases, schools, like country
clubs, received land from the government
and raised funds for construction by ask-
ing parents and companies to chip in.
Hence, the debenture was born.
Back then, the prices were more mod-
est, say, HK$20,000 a child, said Ms Judy
Carline, a Hong Kong-based relocation
consultant whose own children went to
the French International School in the
Now, with much greater demand, the
market has become more complicated,
gossip-filled and opaque, said Ms Ruth
Benny, who launched the website to help parents apply
for independent schools in Hong Kong.
Every school is different, she added.
Most do not say how many students
are accepted via debentures or how much
money they raise. Some debentures guar-
antee admission, and a few schools offer
creme de la creme ones that cost more,
but will pretty much let an applicant pass
through every door, and even sweep in a
Other debentures only help to
fast-track an application.
None of this appears to deter deter-
mined parents.
While local Hong Kong schools boast
high academic standards, some parents
feel they are too focused on rote learning,
and there is too much pressure, with pri-
mary kids staying up until midnight to do
homework, and parents forming study
groups to keep up, said Ms Jo-Ann
Seow, deputy principal of the ISF Acade-
Debenture holders are reluctant to dis-
cuss their investment because it is social-
ly awkward. You can jump ahead of
someone who has been on a waiting list
for three years, explained Ms Carline,
the relocation consultant.
As one ISF Academy parent who
bought a debenture put it: It is exorbi-
tant. And they dont want people to think
their kids got into the school only be-
cause their parents bought them a spot.
Meanwhile, schools say they rely on de-
benture funds to build facilities in pricey
Hong Kong.
It is a local Hong Kong phenome-
non, said Dr Mark Hensman, chief oper-
ating officer for Harrow International
Management Services, which will open
its HK$1 billion campus in Hong Kong
next year. Neither Harrows Beijing nor
Bangkok branch issues debentures.
Already, corporate debentures
which employers include as part of a hir-
ing package for Harrows Hong Kong
school that go for HK$3 million are sold
out. So are its individual debentures,
which go for HK$600,000.
JAKARTA: Demand for Singapore-style
schools based in Indonesia has grown but
is not expected to dent the number of Indo-
nesians heading to Singapore for their edu-
cation, said school operators here.
There are about 10 privately run
schools that use Singapore textbooks and
curricula in Jakarta. Several more are to be
found in cities in outer provinces such as
Surabaya in East Java and Medan in North
These schools cater to a wide age range,
from four-year-old preschoolers to
18-year-old junior college students.
What makes them popular, say their
principals, is the Singapore brand name
and the perception that any Singapore out-
fit is run well.
Mr Ng Eng Chin, principal of Anglo-
Chinese School (International) Jakarta,
said he has seen the number of students in
his school more than double to 620 over
the past three years.
His school was set up in 2006 by the
board of governors of ACS in Singapore
and an Indonesian businessman.
Mr Ng, a former principal of ACS (Bark-
er Road) who has been the Jakarta schools
principal for nearly four years, said: Peo-
ple hear about Singapores education sys-
tem and they think it is efficient, that the
system works as it produces skilled work-
ers. That is the strength of a Singapore in-
ternational school.
His school is popular with middle-class
Indonesians their children make up nine
out of 10 students, with the remainder be-
ing Singaporeans, Americans, Britons and
other Europeans.
Meanwhile, the Singapore International
School, which first broke ground in Jakar-
ta in 1996, has set up seven other schools
in cities such as Bandung, Medan and Se-
marang. A spokesman said it is seeing
strong demand, with full enrolment in two
schools, while the rest are 80 per cent to
90 per cent filled.
Another school, the Jakarta Nanyang
School (JNY), is opening next July, offer-
ing classes from kindergarten to Second-
ary 1, with plans to offer classes eventually
right up to junior college. It has seen
strong demand for its Secondary 1 and Pri-
mary 1 classes.
An oft-mentioned reason by parents for
the attractiveness of Singapore-style
schools is their medium of instruction:
English. Mandarin and other languages are
also on offer, options that are unavailable
in most Indonesian government schools,
where subjects are taught mainly in Baha-
sa Indonesia.
Ms Yulia Salim, 37, said: I sent my son
to the Singapore school here so that we
can still be with him, but yet he can have a
better quality education and learn English
and have friends from other backgrounds
Indonesian parents who approach JNY
appear to hold similar views. JNYs princi-
pal, Dr Liu Shiueh Ling, says their concern
is to provide their children with the neces-
sary linguistic and other skills that will en-
able them to carve out a career easily at
home or abroad.
Cost considerations are another draw
for Indonesian parents who enrol their chil-
dren in these Singapore-style internation-
al schools.
The annual cost of schooling children in
an international school here can range
from $7,000 at kindergarten level to over
$15,000 from upper secondary onwards. It
makes a dent in the pocketbook, but is still
cheaper than sending the child to study in
Singapore-based international schools
charge fees of $8,000 to $19,000, not in-
cluding more than $10,000 in boarding
charges annually.
Though these international schools use
Singapore textbooks, educators in the
schools say the curricula differ from the
ones in Singapore.
Dr Liu said they need to reflect ele-
ments of Indonesian culture, such as game-
lan music and wayang kulit plays.
Subjects like history and geography al-
so have to deviate from Singapore text-
books to take in more of the Indonesian ex-
amples and a global perspective, less of
Singapore, she said.
Despite the strong demand, the princi-
pals do not think their schools will damp-
en the market for Indonesians heading to
Dr Liu said: The market for education
is big enough for everyone, and the ones
going to Singapore may want a different
experience from those who come here.
In fact, parents planning to use the
Singapore-style schools in Indonesia as a
platform for their children to enter schools
in Singapore are advised to send their chil-
dren there at the earliest possible age.
That way, they can adapt more easily to
the more demanding system in Singapore.
According to estimates from student as-
sociations and local reports, there are
about 10,000 Indonesians studying in Sin-
gapore, from primary school level right up
to university.
Ms Agnes Gunawan, a 38-year-old
housewife, has two children aged five
and seven in Singapore schools. For her,
the plus points include access to better
health care and cleaner air.
She also hopes her children will thrive
in the more diverse community that Singa-
pore offers and become more self-reliant,
commuting to school on their own, for in-
stance, instead of being chauffeured
Ms Teyti Wiryono, 42, is another Indo-
nesian mum with children studying in Sin-
gapore. They started at Primary 1, and
are now aged 10 and 12. She lives in Jakar-
ta and considers the separation and fre-
quent shuttle visits she has to make a
small price to pay.
I wanted them to learn English and
Mandarin well, and I believe it is still bet-
ter to do this in Singapore, she said.
The education system is more rigorous,
and they will be able to compete any-
where else in the world after that.
What price a good
education? For many
expatriate parents in
Hong Kong, millions
of dollars just to get
a place. We look at
what drives the
growing market for
international schools
in parts of Asia.
Singapores EtonHouse runs schools in Chinese
cities like Chengdu. It plans to open one in
Dalian in 2013, to add to existing multi-level
schools in Suzhou and Wuxi. PHOTO: ETONHOUSE
At the ISF Academy in Hong Kong (above), debentures currently go for just under HK$5 million,
up almost 50 per cent from last year. The practice of debentures appears unique to Hong Kong,
and goes back more than 30 years, to when it was a British colony. ST PHOTO: JOANNE LEE-YOUNG
INDONESIA: Singapore brand and
lessons in English are big draw
The number of students at Anglo-Chinese
School (International) Jakarta has more
than doubled to 620 over the past three
years, says its school principal. It was set
up in 2006. PHOTO: ACS (JAKARTA)
CHINA: Foreign schools venturing into smaller cities
top dollar for
fast-track entry