Hong Kong’s largest provider of English-medium international education will freeze fees for its 22 schools in the upcoming academic year amid the coronavirus pandemic, the first time it has done so in a decade.
The English Schools Foundation (ESF) said in a letter to parents on Monday that its board had made the decision in light of the anxiety and financial burden some families faced amid class suspensions and an economic slowdown.
CEO Belinda Greer said the city had faced challenges including anti-government protests and the Covid-19 pandemic in recent months.
“I have never known such difficult times in my long career as an educator,” she wrote.
“You have had to cope with in-school class suspensions of a type not seen in a generation, you have faced an economic slowdown that could well end up to be unprecedented in its scale and, of course, you have had to deal with the anxiety of your family living through a time that is often hard to comprehend.”
The ESF has about 17,700 students studying at its kindergartens, primary, secondary and all-through schools.
School fees for the current academic year range from HK$98,500 (US$12,628) to HK$140,700 for primary and secondary students. The group had applied to the government to raise fees by an average of 4.5 per cent last year.
Classes at all Hong Kong kindergartens, primary and secondary schools have been suspended since February 3 in a bid to tackle the virus.
Some parents at international schools, including at ESF kindergartens, had earlier demanded a refund of fees despite a switch to online learning by many.
The ESF last froze its school fees in 2009 following a downturn during the global financial crisis.
The mother of a secondary school pupil said she was grateful that the ESF had stepped up and offered support.
“I think financial recovery will be a struggle for many people,” she said. “I am sure this was not an easy decision for the ESF, with rising costs themselves, while teachers will perhaps have to forgo pay rises.”
Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen also believed the move could relieve many parents’ burden.
Ip, vice-president of the Professional Teachers’ Union, said some international schools could be suffering financially during the period of class suspensions, as some parents had warned they would withdraw their children, especially from kindergartens.
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