S.T.E.A.M. Day

Local vs International Schools – what’s the difference?

Within the age-old dilemma of international vs local school, we believe it comes down to culture and beliefs (assuming you have a choice). Are international schools really worth it? Is local school curricula too demanding? Will my child be able to learn Chinese at an international school? Here are some of the questions that we hope to help you answer! Please note that these pros and cons don’t apply to every international/public school. 

Local schools pros

Chinese/Mandarin Proficiency

Cantonese and Mandarin will be the main teaching and social languages. Surrounded by Mandarin and Cantonese speakers from a young age, they will develop a high proficiency to read, write, and speak in these languages. 


As a local school student, you will typically gain a deep understanding and appreciation for Hong Kong culture, thereby strengthening cultural identity. Some of these experiences (whether its food, leisure, or traditions) can often only be experienced as a local school student. 


Local schools are much more cost-efficient compared to private/international schools. 

Local schools cons

Learning style (Rote learning + black and white thinking)

Many local schools adopt a very traditional educational philosophy based on rote memorization. This type of rote learning encourages a very “black and white” type of thinking that limits kids’ abilities to think beyond instructions when problem-solving. This often develops a fixed mindset in children. Furthermore, commonly-seen lecture style classes promote a passive learning style. 


Many local schools adopt the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) curriculum. Although it produces very high achieving students who go on to globally renowned universities, it is also a cutthroat, make-or-break style exam which has a university eligibility rate of 58% (as of 2019). 


Linked closely to the curriculum, local schools place a lot of value in homework. The only issue is that it can quickly become excessive (think more than 3 hours a day) and eat into social, recreational, and family time. 

International school pros


Many International schools use English as their primary teaching language. As a result, a majority of the students also end up conversing in English, allowing your child to develop near native English levels. Furthermore, learning English in a less structured, social environment allows your child to develop a more natural grasp of the language. 

Cultural sensitivity 

Being immersed in a multicultural environment not only helps develop cultural sensitivity, but also builds a global mindset. If your child decides to study overseas, there will be less of a culture shock when transitioning to life outside of Hong Kong. 

School-life balance 

Often, curricula adopted by international schools place a larger emphasis on work-life balance. There is often more freedom of choice between subjects and a more flexible, inquiry-based approach to teaching. 

International school cons


International schools are often expensive and do not provide much financial aid. 


Many international schools place some emphasis on Chinese, but children often learn it in isolation (only in class). If your child doesn’t speak these languages outside of school, there is less of a chance that they will obtain native fluency in Chinese. It’s worth noting that some international schools do offer strong bilingual language programs


What about preschools?

Similar pros and cons can be applied to preschools. However, given that children are much younger in preschool, a lot of the things they learn are not based on rote-learning. In fact, it’s more crucial to establish school readiness skills like ability to focus, interest in learning, social skills, classroom etiquette and more. Hence, there is less consideration in ‘local vs. international’ but more so on teaching staff, learning environment, and curriculum


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