Thursday, June 5, 2014

Is Homeschooling Illegal in Hong Kong?

Status of Homeschooling in Hong Kong

Is it illegal?

Contrary to common belief, homeschooling in Hong Kong is NOT illegal.

This has been confirmed to us by the Permanent Secretary of the Education Bureau Mrs. Cherry Tse during a meeting on 11 April 2014 with a few homeschool practitioners (myself: Cam Cheung, Karen Chow, her husband Jacky, and her two daughters: Abby, 7 and Janique, 2).

We also know for the first time, as of 11 April, there are 18 homeschooling cases which have applied with the EDB, whose officers pay regular home visits to to ensure the children are actually receiving an education and the families do not abuse their right.

Legal Basis:

We feel the following pieces of legislation give the space necessary for homeschooling in Hong Kong:

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 26
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

  1. Hong Kong Basic Law Article 137
Students shall enjoy freedom of choice of educational institutions and freedom to pursue their education outside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

  1. Education Ordinance
Section 3: INTERPRETATION Version Date: 01/07/2007
"school" (學校) means an institution, organization or establishment which provides for 20 or more persons during any one day or 8 or more persons at any one time, any nursery, kindergarten, primary, secondary or post secondary education or any other educational course by any means*, including correspondence delivered by hand or through the postal services; (Amended 38 of 1983 s. 2; 42 of 1993 s. 2)
(*This enables home or other outside-of-school learning)

  1. Section 74: Power of Permanent Secretary to order attendance at primary school or secondary school
Where it appears to the Permanent Secretary that a child is not attending primary school or secondary school without any reasonable excuse*, the Permanent Secretary may, after making such inquiries as he considers necessary, serve upon a parent of the child an attendance order in the specified form requiring him to cause the child to attend regularly as a pupil the primary school or secondary school named in the attendance order.
(3) This section shall- (c) not apply to a child-
(iii) who is attending regularly, or is an inmate of, an institution (other than a school)** which is regarded by the Permanent Secretary as suitable for the child.
(* 'reasonable excuse' allows broad interpretation)
(** enabling home or other outside-of-school learning)

Why do people think it's illegal then?

We are not too sure. But one important reason is probably based on widespread negative news reports in 2000, when a father Leung Chi Kwong, stopped his daughter from attending school because he did not trust the HK education system. He decided to homeschool. EDB officials visited their home everyday for an extended period to ask him to send his child to school. He was given an attendance order after a couple of years, but he chose to move to mainland China and came back to HK after some time. His daughter eventually was enrolled in a Hong Kong primary school, and graduated from secondary school in 2012.

There were subsequently two other cases in the news which probably also caused the belief that 'homeschooling is illegal'. In 2009 a couple was sentenced to community service when they stopped sending their son to school, because of a fee they didn't agree with, and in 2012, a woman stopped sending her daughter to school because she didn't get a place at the secondary school she wanted, but the woman was later found to have psychological issues.

The negative news reports might have been the main reason why people believe homeschooling is illegal here. However, during the time when these cases were reported, there could have been quite a few 'acknowledged' cases practising homeschooling under the monitoring of the EDB 'Non-attendance case team'.

Of course, the EDB schooling policy throughout the years since the inception of compulsory education (a term which has given way to 'universal free education' in recent years) may also form the basis of an understanding that it is compulsory to go to school. This misunderstanding is widespread, even among teachers, school administrators and government officials.

The government's position:

While homeschooling is not illegal, the government made it clear to us during the meeting that they will not encourage homeschooling presently, as they consider going to school is the best option for children. Also, from their point of view, they have to guard against possible abuse.

We asked for the meeting, which happened as previously mentioned on April 11th, to enhance mutual understanding. We sought to promote understanding rather than asking for resources. (Please see the the proposal that we handed to the government after the meeting.)

The government's response to some of our requests:

  1. They are considering issuing applied homeschooling families a letter to acknowledge that they have been approved to homechool under ongoing monitoring by the EDB through home visits until the child reaches 15 years of age.

  1. They may consider renaming the group that handles homeschoolers. (Currently, anyone who doesn't go to school, including mostly truancy cases, are under the Non-attendance case team.)

  1. They do not have plan to pass legislation about homeschooling.

  1. They will continue to exercise flexibility towards homeschoolers.

  1. Homeschoolers are not required to complete compulsory exams/assessments but a curriculum is preferred.

(Note: Unschooling, i.e., learning without a curriculum, is tolerated. But our experience tells us the government does not like it, and some EDB officials do not understand or approve the value in some of the learning experienced by unschoolers. As parents, if you want to practise 'unschooling', you need to be prepared to provide a lot of evidence to prove that your child is learning. It is our experience that the term 'unschooling' is interpreted negatively by EDB officials. We recommend using 'self-directed learning' with active parental support and guidance, or other descriptive alternatives, to describe unschooling.)

  1. They encourage families to apply with them if they want to homeschool. (They still do not have a formal route to apply. To apply, just write to the general enquiry contact of the EDB and they will refer your information to the right department. We will update here if we learn more from the EDB.
Contact: Mr. M L YAN, Inspector of Placement & Support Section
Tel: 3698 4388
Add: 15/F, Wu Chung House,
213 Queen's Road East
Wanchai, Hong Kong

  1. Previous application experience have shown that there will be a few rejections--EDB officials telling applicants there is no way to apply, or the possibility of being issued an Attendance Order, and the possibility of a penalty and imprisonment if there is in infringement of an Attendance Order. We asked the Permanent Secretary at the meeting whether it is possible to change their response by telling people how to apply before giving a warning. She answered that this is quite possible, and they would look into amending the format of their response.