CHINA. With the transfer of Hong Kong to Chinese rule next year, a number of schools have opened up in the modern and booming Chinese border town of Shenzhen to teach the colony's curriculum.
These private schools are doing good business, catering to parents who believe that a Hong Kong-type education can improve the chances of their children going to Hong Kong after 1997.
Many Chinese believe that after the handover they will be able to freely enter Hong Kong. In Shenzhen there is a strong belief that Shenzhen and Hong Kong will merge into one big city and that their children will have to be prepared in advance to get into the best Hong Kong schools.
"Parents who are well educated want to provide their child with the best education they can find, and Hong Kong is seen as having good schools," said Miss Shum Ho, curriculum co-ordinator at the Regent Primary School in Shenzhen, which runs the Hong Kong curriculum.
The Regent School opened its doors in September 1995. After just a year it already has 400 children and 40 teachers. The fathers of many of the pupils already have the right to live in Hong Kong but their mainland wives and children must wait for special one-way visas to be issued to allow them to be reunited.
"They are by no means wealthy," said Miss Shum. "But still they prefer our school because they think it will help the children to integrate better once they are allowed to go to Hong Kong."
Some 150 one-way visas to Hond Kong are being issued a day, and priority is given to Chinese wives and children whose fathers are Hong Kong residents to prevent a massive rush after 1997.
Up to half the students at Regent School leave for Hong Kong within the academic year, Miss Shum said.
The existence of such schools is unusual because of the normally tight control over the curriculum by China's education authorities. Unlike the international schools that offer overseas curricula largely for foreign students whose parents work in China, the Shenzhen schools cater for local children.
But teachers at one such school say the Shenzhen authorities are surprisingly supportive, although the schools must follow the rules laid down by the provincial educational authority and must use approved mainland Chinese textbooks. Shenzhen, however, allows the brighter, more interesting Hong Kong texts to be used alongside the others.
"We still have to communicate with the education department of Guangdong province and keep up with educational issues," said Miss Shum. "But the authorities give us freedom."
The provincial education department sees such schools as "specialised", providing an education in subjects that would not be offered in normal schools.
The greatest difficulty is finding experienced teachers able to teach a curriculum with which they are unfamiliar, and such schools depend on the official Labour Department to recruit teachers, although a small number of teachers commute from Hong Kong.