Overview of Hong Kong’s Education System

If you're relocating to Hong Kong with children, you're likely to have plenty of questions about the education system and the options available for your family.  Known for its rich cultural diversity, Hong Kong is a popular destination for international students who seek high-quality education. In fact, Hong Kong has been taking part in international studies such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) conducted by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) organised by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and has consistently attained remarkable rankings.

It’s essential to understand the education system to ensure your children adapt to the local study environment smoothly. In a nutshell, the well-rounded education system in Hong Kong is designed in a 12-year structure, with 6 years of primary education, 3 years of junior secondary education, and 3 years of senior secondary education. Along with full-time courses run by the Vocational Training Council, offering an alternative free avenue for senior secondary students outside mainstream education.  Upon completion of this six-year secondary education, students who participated in the local curriculum will take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE) and join the scheme of Joint University Programmes Admissions System (JUPAS) for local university admission.

Within Hong Kong’s highly-regarded education system, parents have a wide range of school types to choose from. The schools in Hong Kong are mainly publicly-funded, comprising over 800 public schools and over 70 Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS) schools.  Among the public schools, there are over 700 Aided Schools which are fully subsidised by the Government, and over 60 Government Schools which are directly operated by the Government. Most of these aided schools are run by religious bodies and charitable organisations and managed by their Incorporated Management Committees (IMCs) or School Management Committees (SMCs).

  • Government and Aided Schools in Hong Kong are public sector schools. They receive government funding to offer free education for local students, who follow the Hong Kong curriculum. While some public schools in Hong Kong use English as the main medium of instruction, they generally have a stronger emphasis on Chinese language education. Public schools can be a good choice for students who want to immerse in a Chinese language environment, as well as for families who are looking for an affordable school option.
  • DSS Schools in Hong Kong are schools where the government provides subsidies based on student enrolment but are also allowed to charge tuition fees.  Some DDS schools offer students a more flexible curriculum beyond the local curriculum.

Apart from publicly-funded schools, there are close to 100 private primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong, comprising International Schools, Private Independent Schools, and other private schools. They all operate on a self-financing basis.

  • International Schools in Hong Kong are privately run. They are popular among non-local families as they follow non-local curricula designed for the needs of a particular cultural or linguistic group, or students who do not wish to sit for local examinations. The majority of international schools uses English as the main teaching and learning language, while a number of them use other languages, depending on the curricula. The range of curricula being offered includes International Baccalaureate (IB), British, American, Canadian, German, Japanese, etc.. These schools offer a diverse student body and a multicultural learning environment. 

  • Private Independent Schools, similar to International Schools, are private schools. Most of them offer non-local curricula as they primarily serve the demand for school places from local families seeking an alternative to public sector schools.

  • Other Private Schools enjoy great level of autonomy in curriculum design and language use. Both local and international curricula are offered. Their flexibility in classes allow students to explore a wide range of subjects and interests according to their progress and needs.

Once you have identified a suitable school, you will need to navigate the application procedures. For public primary and secondary schools, the process is relatively straightforward via the School Places Allocation Systems. The government has recently injected flexibility into the admission procedures for non-local children arriving Hong Kong on a dependant visa granted under the various immigration schemes for talented migrants (their parents). Non-local children may now participate in Discretionary Places and Central Allocation for Primary One admission, and in Discretionary Places only for Secondary One admission, while awaiting their visa approval. If your children require admission to other school class levels (non P1 or S1), or if you miss the application deadlines or arrive after the commencement of the school term (usually in September), you could seek help from the Regional Education Office of the Education Bureau for placement assistance services or approach the targeted schools for admission application directly. If you have preference for particular public schools, or if you aim to enroll in any DSS school, you may contact the school’s admission office directly.

If you wish to send your children to international schools, private independent schools, and other private schools, you should apply directly to the schools.  Usually, you’ll need to submit your application with supporting documents, such as student transcripts, recommendation letters, evidence of language proficiency and certificates of qualification etc.. Some schools may additionally require proof of family financial status and residency before they can process your application.  Schools might also conduct in-person or online interviews as part of the admission assessment.  You should plan in advance by approaching the schools as early as possible to understand more about their admission requirements.

After you have completed all the necessary paperwork and your child's application has been accepted, it's important to allow some time for adjustment as you and your child adapt to the Hong Kong education system. Keep in mind that adjusting to a new environment and culture can take time, so be open to invitations from new friends and encourage your child to have fun outside of the classroom.