However, Ricky Wong Ka-kei, also a graduate of SPCC who comes from a lower middle class background, sees things differently. He says that although many of his friends are quite wealthy, it does not mean that their parents allow them to lead luxurious lives at school. They get more or less the same amount of pocket money as he does, so they usually have lunch and watch films together.
“I will not make friends with schoolmates based only on their family background,” he says. “Although friends from wealthier family may have different living habits to mine, that’s none of my business. We are not asking each other to live in the same way.”
Despite the promotion of school remission schemes and the evidence of poorer students who have entered elite DSS schools, CUHK’s Thomas Tse Kwan-choi, says the DSS system has made it harder for students from lower socio-economic groups to get into Hong Kong’s top schools overall. It not only perpetuates but reinforces unfairness in access to quality education.
Tse explains that before the launch of the DSS, students could only apply for secondary schools in their own school net district. School places were centrally allocated. However, DSS schools are now allowed to take students from all school nets. This means they can cherry pick the best students.
Moreover, as DSS schools can receive both school fees from students and government subsidies, they have more teaching resources and can provide better education. “It’s like you have the basic meal but you can also add extra dishes,” says Tse.
Given such attractions, it is not surprising more students will want to apply to DSS schools.As these schools attract more applicants, the admission bar becomes higher. Candidates will have to distinguish themselves not just academically but in other areas as well, such as extra-curricular activities.
Tse adds that although DSS schools offer scholarships and school fee remission schemes, lower class parents working long hours to make ends meet may not have access to this information. Some may not have access to or knowledge of how to search the internet for fee remission details. They would only choose a DSS secondary school for their children if they were nominated by principals or teachers in their primary schools.
Looking at the bigger picture of education in Hong Kong, the ability of elite DSS schools to cream off the best of all students, regardless of their background, means fewer top students will be found in government and aided schools. Tse says this enables the DSS schools to retain and strengthen their exclusivity at the expense of government and aided schools.
“DSS schools are like the Peninsula Hotel. Its doors are always open to the public, but who gets to actually enter illustrates class differences,” says Tse. “DSS can’t weaken class differences; it perpetuates them.”