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June 08, 2013

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Michael Tomkins

Rest assured, this is having a negative impact on Hong Kong's international city status already.

My wife and I, until this situation came to a head, were making plans to move to Hong Kong; I am right-to-land eligible through birth, my right-of-abode having lapsed due to being overseas for too long.

This situation, however, was of grave concern to us. Our four-year-old son does not speak Cantonese, and although my wife and I were learning to speak it ourselves and fully planned to have him receive lessons too, neither of us is at the point where we could give him enough of a grounding to be able to learn and make friends on arrival. I'm sure he would've been able to pick it up over time, given the strong aptitude for languages he already shows, but while he did so it would have negatively impacted his ability to learn and make friends in a non-English speaking school. That would likely have had long-term implications we couldn't foresee.

So it was an English-language school for him or nothing, at least to start off with, and realistically that meant ESF. The other options available were simply out of our initial budget, or had little to no guarantee of his acceptance.

Could we afford the higher ESF rates? Most likely, yes, for one child. Are we willing to risk later finding out that the rates were jacked up beyond what we could afford, or that we had another child and were unable to afford the higher rates for two kids? Not a chance.

And so, our plans have been put on (likely permanent) hiatus, due to the government's wholly irresponsible and frankly unjustifiable decision that children's right to affordable education is not basic and fundamental. Thanks to a petty game of chicken between the government and the ESF leadership, Hong Kong's status as a supposed international city has been badly damaged -- it has shown itself to be merely a Chinese city that happens to have a fair few foreigners in it by an accident of history, and not a real world-class city.

I am ashamed of Hong Kong, and that is not a sentence I use lightly -- I am usually the first to champion its merits, but withholding the right to an affordable education from any segment of the population overrides anything else. Those on both sides of the aisle who through their action or inaction are responsible for these events should equally hang their heads in shame.

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