Expanding the Private School Sector: Government Policy and Private Secondary Schools in Hong Kong, 1988-2001

Article excerpt

Introduction

Private education, either informal or formal, has been a central part of every culture and society. It preceded any form of government or public education. Private education and public education are often juxtaposed to either as opposing concepts and ways of providing education. Levin (2001) proposes three characteristics that distinguish private education from public education: financing, sponsorship, and operations. Financing, sponsorship, and the operation or control of a private school come from non-public or government sources. On the other hand, public schools are financed by government funds, and sponsored and operated or controlled by the state. Aldrich (2004) offers the simple distinction in terms of who provides the education: the state or non-government providers. Even so, care must be given to the fact that the use or definitions of the terms "public" and "private" have changed over the years and are often used differently depending on the country. For example, prior to the middle of the 19th century in the United States, the term "public" referred to anything that contributed to the general welfare of society (Randall, 1994). In Britain for example, the "nine great public schools of England" in the 19th century were really schools financed by charitable organizations rather than schools operated for profit or "private schools" (Aldrich, 2004, p. 5). In addition, public schools often contract with the private sources to provide certain goods and services. Private schools often receive some form of government funding. The development and growth of charter schools in the United States, a form of schooling that has characteristics of both public and private schools, and the almost bewildering array of public and private school configurations in places like Hong Kong work against any hard and fast definition of private education that has universal application. For the purposes of this article, private education is education provided, controlled and operated by a non-government source with much of the funding coming primarily from non-government sources or from contractual arrangements with the state to provide educational services.

The emergence of government or public education is motivated by any number of factors. These include nation building, creating a common culture, reducing social conflict, and building human capital. In most instances, government education is begun as an effort to use education a policy tool to achieve political and social objectives, to be a major source of social reform. The rise of the common school movement in the United States in the 19th century, was a political solution to a myriad of social problems (Randall, 1994).

Generally speaking, the role of private education in developed countries is different from the role it serves in developing countries. In developed countries, private education serves as a social and academic safety valve for those seeking such things as a religious perspective, innovative or specialized pedagogy, safe environment or a more rigorous academic approach. In developing countries, private education often provides greater access to basic education because governments are unable to provide universal education to all. Private education fills in the educational gap, often a large one, that the state does not have the capacity to fill (Tooley, 1999).

The Rise of Private Education: A Global Overview

Private education has been gaining favorable support and growth throughout the world in the past few decades (Bray, 1996; Chediel, Sekwao, & Kirumba, 2000; Djame, Esquieu, Onana, & Mvogo, 2000; Glenn, 1995; Kitaev, 1999; Lin, 1999; Tooley, 1999). For instance, private school sectors are burgeoning in Latin America countries, such as Columbia, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. In Columbia, the percentages of students enrolled in private primary schools and secondary schools were 28% and 40% respectively in the late 90s. …