*** DEBUG END ***

Education: church-school high achievers in Hong Kong

10 February 2023

The Anglican diocese runs 130 schools and nurseries in Hong Kong. Francis Martin asked about its investment in education

Francis Martin/Church Times

St Paul’s Co-educational College (foreground) and apartment blocks in the Mid-Levels

St Paul’s Co-educational College (foreground) and apartment blocks in the Mid-Levels

A WINDING lane leads through woods, up and away from the bold, brightly lit streets of Mong Kok. There is a sign on the pedestrian walkway: “Rev. George She Path”. I am on my way to St Augustine’s Chapel, situated in the sprawling Kowloon campus of the Diocesan Boys’ School (DBS), often considered the most prestigious school in Hong Kong.

Canon She was headmaster of DBS in the middle of the last century, and a close friend of the longstanding Bishop of Hong Kong, the Rt Revd Ronald Hall. While Canon She has to settle for an atmospheric path named in his honour, Bishop Hall has a school, situated less than a kilometre from where I am walking.

Both DBS and Bishop Hall Jubilee School (BHJS) are, as their names suggest, affiliated with the Hong Kong Anglican Church, known as the Sheng Kung Hui (SKH), but they are in other respects quite different. DBS is a direct-subsidy school, meaning that students pay fees (modest compared with UK equivalents, at about £5500 per annum) to bolster the government funding that it receives, while BHJS is supported solely by the State.

DBS also has more control over its student intake, and accepts just eight per cent of those who apply — a lower acceptance rate than the University of Oxford. It also has both more flexibility in how they are taught, as well as significantly more space in which to teach them: DBS’s state-of-the-art sports field could comfortably contain the whole of BHJS (though whether it can contain the ego of the DBS students, who are known to chant at sporting fixtures about being the “best of the best”, is another matter).

BHJS is up-front about its Christian identity: on page eight of the school’s prospectus, written in both English and Chinese, it states: “The religious objective of our school is to promote the teachings of Jesus Christ and His values.”

If you had any doubts, they would be dispelled as you walk through its entrance hallway. They were celebrating “Gospel Month” when I visited, and the atrium was bedecked with pastel-hued posters carrying Bible quotes.

In the semi-enclosed foyer beside the playground, there is a board for prayer requests. Students of all faiths have contributed, the principal, Vicky Law, told me. Religious Studies is on the timetable, but it is not an exam subject, and becomes a means for teaching Christian values.

Schools that receive any public funding cannot discriminate on the basis of religion in their admissions, and so the percentage of Christians at the school is likely to be roughly similar to that of Hong Kong at large: roughly 12 per cent. How does the teaching of Christian values square with this? “They are all very good values, and so, even if in the end [the students] are not Christian, they still agree and buy in,” Ms Law said.

Francis Martin/Church TimesThe chapel at Bishop Hall Jubilee School, in Kowloon Tong

Dr Moses Cheng, a lawyer and former member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Committee, chairs the SKH’s Educational Services. He echoed what Ms Law said about not proselytising, but giving pupils the opportunity to discover Christianity: “We plant the seed of gospel in the heart of our students, but as to when God would seek to harvest, this is not within our control.”

The SKH’s involvement in education is extensive — it has more than 130 schools and kindergartens under its auspices, including DBS, its counterpart the Diocesan Girls School (DGS), and St Paul’s Co-educational College, another prestigious fee-paying school, on the lower slopes of the iconic Peak (the tramline to the top starts a stone’s throw from the school).

I visited St Paul’s Co-ed in early December, and met the principal, Frederick Poon. Like Ms Law and Dr Cheng, he was at pains to convey that the school did not proselytise, but that a Christian ethos was at the heart of the school’s mission. There are weekly religious assemblies, and regular services in local churches, as well as in the school chapel, but — as Mr Poon put it — “we invite them, but are not pushing.”


SCHOOLING in Hong Kong can be an intense experience. From kindergarten onwards, there is fierce competition for places, and pre-schools require prospective students to undergo an interview as part of the application.

“There’s a Chinese phrase: ‘Winning begins before the starting line,’” the Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kowloon, the Very Revd Franklin Lee, explained.

Research suggests that the intense pressure for academic success can have a damaging effect: in 2017, the Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service, a Christian charity, found that one in ten primary school pupils exhibited symptoms of clinical depression, while more than one fifth of eight-12-year-olds said that they often felt stressed about their academic performance.

Dean Lee is part of the chaplaincy team at DBS, BHJS, and a handful of other schools and kindergartens, and has a position on the management committee at several schools. He worries about how the Christian ethos might conflict with the culture of individual success which is ingrained in the education system.

“To practise Christian culture can be quite challenging in some schools, and that’s part of a wider issue in Hong Kong of focusing on academic results. In the materialistic world, everything is about getting success.

Francis Martin/Church TimesThe Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral, in the diocese of East Kowloon, the Very Revd Franklin Lee

“The setting we’re now in, we need quick solutions, and there is little time for people to reflect, and so, when disaster takes place, the stress level goes up, and then adds to the pressure on children.”

Mr Lee was ordained in the Church of England, and served as chaplain of St George’s School, Windsor, and was Minor Canon of St George’s Chapel, before returning to Hong Kong, the place of his birth and early schooling.

“I observe both in the UK and here: sometimes in schools we’re not creating space for people to experience failure. We’re now in a culture where we try to give praise and prizes, and that’s wonderful — we need that — but, when something goes wrong, the walls are sometimes very high, the protection bubble too thin,” he said.

Dean Lee is aware that most pupils to whom he ministers are non-Christians. “I go into a school assembly, and I bless them. Maybe 99 per cent hate Jesus. I don’t know. But I bless them because of what I believe: that they are all children of God. It is not for me to judge them. If they are finding faith in other religions, I respect them.

“All I want is to try my best to help this person in their journey. . . If God chooses to reveal himself in other ways, then let it be,” he says. “Maybe my Westcott House liberalism is showing.”

He believes that the Christian faith, and the pastoral care that goes with it, can work as an antidote to the message that one’s worth is dictated by academic performance. “That’s something my ministry has constantly been about: reminding them that whether they are at the top of the class or seen as a failure, they are loved,” he said.


COMPARED with St Paul’s Co-ed, with its warren of hillside buildings, and the vast campus of DBS, the state-funded Bishop Hall Jubilee School is very modest. The entire school is contained in a single, five-storey, C-shaped building, with a playground the size of two basketball courts in the centre. There is nothing modest about the education that it offers, however.

I toured the school in December, and it was like walking around an Advent calendar, every door opening on to a surprise: a high-tech lab, funded by alumni; a drama-and-dance studio; a gym in which students were having a penalty shoot-out against some crash mats; and, at the very top of the building, where the light shines from three sides, a large chapel with a stained-glass wall behind the altar.

Francis Martin/Church TimesThe Principal of Bishop Hall Jubilee School, Vicky Law

The Christian Union met in the chapel every week, Ms Law explained. When we went into a classroom to meet some students, I asked them what impact the Christian identity of the school had on their daily lives. I have spent enough time working in schools to expect awkward silence, but, to my surprise, a girl put up her hand and spoke eloquently about how meetings of the CU were a source of comfort and support.

In the playground downstairs, we met Simeon, one of the CU organisers. He spoke of wanting to help to spread a message of hope among his fellow students, and invite them to pray; and he echoed what the girl had said about the comfort that his faith brought him amid the pressures of school life.

Dean Lee told me that he had asked the students in a special assembly to mark Gospel Month at BHJS: “Are you happy?” I asked him how they reacted. “They were taken aback — they’re not used to be invited to reflect upon themselves in that way,” he said.

Sitting now in the chapel at the heart of Hong Kong’s most famous school, he reflected: “My role is to ensure that the Christian ethos is being recognised in schools. But it’s not the theology that will touch people’s lives, but the assurance of their value.”

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)