Access to educational opportunity: the case of Kwun Tong


Ng, Pedro Pak-tao

TitleAccess to educational opportunity: the case of Kwun Tong
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateJanuary, 1975

Kwun Tong

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

We have in this report provided some empirical data for examining the patterns of educational mobility and attainmennt among some residents of the industrial town of Kwun Tong in Hong Kong.


Given that school enrolment rates have been on the increase during this time, one would expect that more children of various social strata, especially those from the lower strata, would have attained a given level of education. Our data show that although practically all children of various social strata have had at least some primary education, the proportions completing primary school and reaching successively higher levels have generally declined over time for all strata.


The selection process of schooling starts early in the primary school years, much to the disadvantage of lower status sons, so that, for instance, as few as 45 per cent of those from the “bottom” stratum (fathers had no schooling) who entered primary school in the nineteen fifties or earlier as few as 45 per cent of those from the “bottom” stratum (fathers had no schooling) who entered primary school in the nineteen fifties or earlier (25-or-older age group) eventually graduated. It seems, however, that the expansion of primary schooling has improved the chances of primary school graduation of children of deprived families, for the attainment gap between sons of the top and bottom strata at this level of education has clearly dwindled over the years. This may also indicate that primary school graduation has increasingly become a norm of basic education that has spread to and accepted by the lower strata of the society. This trend is significant in that father’s education used to have a considerable influence on the chances of graduation from primary school, more so than on the chances of going from primary to secondary school or graduation from secondary school once you are there, which suggests that in those days (roughly fifteen years ago) completing primary school was the more important and difficult hurdle to cross for lower strata children. At present, this level of educational attainment is without question the very minimum requirement for entry into the job market.


While the influence of father’s education on the chanced of graduation from primary school has decreased (but still rather substantial). We found that the relative chances for the sons of uneducated fathers having graduated from primary school and reached some secondary school, compared with the sons of better educated fathers, have diminished over time. Furthermore, having poorly educated fathers has also been somewhat a handicap in finishing secondary school once entering it, but here the differential due to father’s education is not monotonic. This suggests that whether parents will send their children to secondary school when they graduate from primary school is probably a bigger decision for parents to make, largely depending on parents’ own education and financial ability, than the decision to carry their children through secondary school once they are already in. With employment opportunities for child labor (legal minimum employment age in Hong Kong is 14) easily available in the industrial town of Kwun Tong, it is not unlikely that parents in deprived families would rather send their children to work than to school when they finish primary education.


Interpretation of the trend in differential educational attainment among the various social strata has to be limited since the age groups obtained in our data spend over only a short time period. At the same time the pattern of decrease over time in the proportions of sons reaching a given level of education, as shown in the data described in this paper, may not adequately represent the overall educational situation in Hong Kong, but may be partly due to Kwun Tong’s being an industrial town offering many job opportunities. It may be that most of the sons in our sample, hence those in Kwun Tong as a whole as well, belong to the lower socio-economic classes of Hong Kong society, in which cases it is possible that older children are given a higher priority in receiving education. It may also be that some of the older subjects in our sample went to secondary school before their families moved into Kwun Tong which has relatively few secondary schools. Those children who began their schooling in Kwun Tong would thus be partly handicapped by the lack of secondary school places, and would have to seek such places in other parts of Hong Kong which would incur extra expenses and certain inconvenience to parents. Since our data do not provide controls for such factors as family income, son's birth order, family's length of residence in Kwun Tong, and location of schools attended, these interpretations are merely speculative and have yet to be tested.


Despite the absence of controls on other variables which are not possible in our data, our findings do point to the existence of discrepancies in educational opportunity among the various social strata. In most cases, sons of poorly educated fathers, as compared with those of better educated fathers, are at a disadvantage in reaching any given level of education and in proceeding further given that a particular level is reached. What precisely accounts for the disadvantage is an important research problem which, however, is beyond the scope of this paper.

Finally, our findings suggest that any claim of improvement in the educational system cannot be based only or even largely on increases in aggregate school enrolment figures. Even the finding that over half of our subjects in a given age group have had more schooling than their fathers does not really say much about any real improvement in educational attainment relative to peers. It is only when we examine attainment rates at given educational levels among different social groups that we begin to see variations in access to educational opportunities. Such variations would serve as a basis for evaluating the degree to which the goal of educational equality of opportunity is achieved.

NoteA paper produced for the Kwun Tong Industrial Community Research Programme; Includes bibliographical references.
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