Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Education is key to closing Hong Kong’s wealth gap

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
SCMP Editorial

Officials now accept it is wrong to assume that the benefits of economic growth filter down to the poor. Positive action is needed to ensure a decent standard of social equity. Hence the revival of the Poverty Commission and plans to establish a poverty line. One example of inequity is the Council of Social Service’s latest estimate that one in three of the city’s elderly is living in poverty. Now an education academic has found disturbing inequity that could entrench the wealth gap that officials are trying to close.

Using government census figures, Professor Chou Kee-lee, of the Institute of Education, has compared the university enrolment rates of 19- and 20-year-olds from the wealthiest 10 per cent of families with those with household incomes less than half the median level. In 1991, the rates were 9.3 per cent for rich families and 8 per cent for poor ones. In 2011, they had widened dramatically to 48.2 per cent for the rich and 11 per cent for the poor. The gap reflects huge public investment in higher education that richer families were better able to access. At the same time, poorer students were more likely to study non-degree tertiary courses – 30 per cent compared with 23.6 per cent of wealthier students. Overall enrolment rates reached nearly 80 per cent for the rich and 41 per cent for the poor. Presumably, that disparity is also to be found up and down the socio-economic ladder. It follows also that international, ESF and elite schools are overrepresented per capita at universities.

The issue is the ability to compete for a job with a future in a market that emphasises credentials. Amid concerns about an ageing society, and the need to attract outside talent, home-grown human resources remain underdeveloped, potentially fuelling perpetuation of a wealth gap. The solution runs deeper than addressing the wealth gap or targeted assistance to the poor. Officials who can afford a privileged education for their own children need to address the educational outcomes of the public school system if Hong Kong is to be a fairer, socially cohesive and harmonious 21st century society.