We head to Causeway Bay to find out how HKCA Po Leung Kuk primary is marrying an international education with a local outlook
I remember when I first dipped my toe into the abyss of information about school choices in Hong Kong. It was right after a slightly panic-inducing conversation with my new mum friends who, in all honestly, knew a lot more about this parenting gig than I did.
Down the rabbit hole I went. I googled “Hong Kong School Options” and life, quite frankly, hasn’t been the same since. Innocence lost. Like most new (to Hong Kong) parents, I drowned in information about the various curriculums on offer, debentures, and tried to understand more about the local Hong Kong school system. At times I felt like I needed a formal qualification to make the right choice.
One consideration set that seemed to be missing was an international curriculum in a Hong Kong setting. There was either the local system or an “international” school. This apparent dichotomy presented a tough choice. For a lot of expats, living in Hong Kong feels like a once-in-lifetime cultural opportunity and many of us want to capitalise on that opportunity for our children.
However, the local system is a challenge some parents are unwilling to expose their families to. Stricter teaching methods and significant homework loads are practical considerations parent often choose not to engage with. Many do, and see great success, but for others it’s too much to take on. Every family is different.
I asked myself, where are all the hybrid schools with an international, progressive curriculum like the IB, but executed in a way an expat family can be part of their local community, instead of being schooled primarily with other expats?
So I was happily surprised (albeit with a pang of jealousy now my kids are settled into schools) when I visited HKCA Po Leung Kuk Primary School and uncovered just that – an IB school run by a Hong Kong organisation for Hong Kong and expat families. Bingo! And here’s the best bit – there’s no capital levy, no debenture, and fees are competitive.
And here’s the best bit – there’s no capital levy, no debenture, and fees are competitive
Po Leung Kuk is a charity organisation that was established 120 years ago with a mission to take care of women and children who had been thrown out of society. It’s also an organization strongly associated with education in the city, with 113 registered schools and more than 50,000 students within its network. This is a local organisation with Hong Kong roots that go wide and deep.
While HKCA Po Leung Kuk Primary School is the first of its schools to offer the PYP (IB primary years program), this international approach is not an entirely new concept within the network. Po Leung Kuk’s Choi Kai Yau School already offers senior students the IB Diploma program in the final two years of school.
HKCA Po Leung Kuk Primary School will offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) which is an English language, inquiry-led framework for children three-12 years old.
Parents researching online will see the school is yet to be accredited as an IB school. It’s important to clarify that children are currently being taught the PYP program, by PYP-experienced teachers, but as a brand new school this formal accreditation has not yet been awarded.
Founding principal David Priest is clear that recruitment for the school’s teaching body has purposefully involved hiring teachers with PYP experience. “This means we can authentically operate using the PYP framework” he says. He is passionate about building an international community. “As an international school, you should have an international faculty. If the majority of the teachers are from one country than that country’s ethos and educational pedagogy tends to dominate.”
The experience for students is multicultural, with a Hong Kong skew. According to Priest, the playground language is a mostly English, but he also hears Cantonese and Mandarin – reflecting the student mix.
“It’s typical, in an international mix of children that the language they are being taught in the classroom tends to come out into the playground, quite naturally (English is the language of instruction at the school). Of course, there are times when they’ll switch to Chinese. I support that because a lot of research has shown it’s very important for children to have a first language, to learn a second language. Conceptually their mother tongue is their strongest language and we need to support and respect that.”
What will make this school most appealing for some parents is its ability to offer families the chance to be part of a predominantly Hong Kong community, not a predominantly expat community. Upon opening, the school has attracted local families with international experience, rather than international families having a Hong Kong experience.
I visited the school late last year when construction on part of the campus was still underway. Priest was hopeful construction will be completed around May 2018. Using my imagination, HKCA Po Leung Kuk Primary School looks like it will offer a lovely learning environment, nestled into a green space a short walk from Causeway Bay.
It’s not a large or spacious campus but it does offer an outdoor space to play sport and run amok during recess and lunch. It also has a lofty new hall for communal gatherings and rainy day sport that’s just perfect for Hong Kong summers. The classrooms are bright, airy and were full of giggles during our tour. It’s a happy campus that offers a great space for little learners.
Right now the school offers Grade 1, 2, and 3. For 2018-2019 the school will have Grades 1 to 4 and in 2019 there will be a Grade 5 class. There are even plans for a kindergarten. Parents can head to their website to see how these grades/classes correspond to other international schools.
For parents with older children you’ll immediately ask, what about the remaining years of high school? “That’s something a lot of parents are already concerned about. We only go to P5, which is Year 6 (in other school systems). We’ve made it very clear to Hong Kong parents that it’s almost impossible to transition back into the local system because P6 is heavily focused on the examination to get into secondary schools in Hong Kong.
“Transitioning to other international schools will be the main option. And so, that’s something that we have already started to make inroads into, trying to find schools that are possible connections. Fortunately there are more spaces available in secondary schools, within the international school system. We are looking at other schools on Hong Kong Island and on the other side of the harbour that share a similar inquiry-based approach.”
“There are plenty of opportunities with really nice secondary schools – that’s not going to be an issue at all. Parents panic, they do,” says Ruth Benny, head girl at Top Schools and an expert in school placements in Hong Kong. Benny believes the idea of a stand-alone primary school is increasingly gaining traction in Hong Kong and children at these primary schools tend to transition well.
When asked what makes his school an appealing choice for expat parents, Mr Priest responds, “We have space! And the location here on Hong Kong Island, it’s a short walk from Causeway Bay. The children don’t have to spend lots of time on school buses and they can use public transportation to get to school. It’s also a great residential area.”
“Many other international schools are very British in their ethos. Our school is much more of a local community school.” For families coming from overseas who want more of a Hong Kong experience with the IB curriculum, HKCA Po Leung Kuk Primary School is worth checking out.
Number of students: 94
Class size: Currently 14-22, but maximum is 30
Fees 2017/2018: HK$89,800
Non-refundable capital levy: None
Address: 62 Tin Hau Temple Road, Hong Kong
Tel: 2807 1770