History & Background
Hong Kong's 646 square miles (1,040 square kilometers) are mostly small, uninhabited islands. Ninety percent of the 7 million people live on about 97 square miles (156 square kilometers) of land—Hong Kong Island, Kowloon peninsula, and the New Territories. The Mongkok section of Kowloon has more than 250,000 people per square mile, making it the most crowded area in the world. About 98 percent of the people are Chinese, most of whom have roots in the Guangzhou area, about 84 miles northwest across the channel on China's mainland.
During the last three decades of the twentieth century, Hong Kong developed into one of the world's leading financial capitals. Hong Kong claims to be the world's eighth largest trading economy, the world's busiest container port, Asia's leading air cargo hub, and the financial and banking center of Asia. Even before its return to the People's Republic of China (PRC) on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was China's leading trading partner; this relationship has continued to expand. By the opening of the twenty-first century, Hong Kong employed more than 3 million workers in China and was a major investor in the Chinese economy.
After it took control of Hong Kong in 1843, the British colonial government never made much effort to educate the Chinese beyond training clerks and servants. Missionaries, however, did establish schools early. St. Paul's College opened in 1849 to train Chinese to become teachers and clergy. During the remaining of the century, only a small number of Chinese children attended government-sponsored schools. Most attended either private Chinese schools or no school at all.
In 1887, the College of Medicine was founded and, in the early twentieth century, this became a part of the first university in Hong Kong. The colony, however, remained a minor economic extension of the British empire until the 1950s. The victory of communists on mainland China transformed the colony into a dynamic center of economic activity. By 1960, about 2 million refugees from the mainland had escaped to Hong Kong. Some were educated, wealthy business leaders, especially in industries such as textiles and shipbuilding, but the vast majority were poor, uneducated peasants. Living in cardboard shacks in refugee camps and on boats in Hong Kong harbor, the majority of refugees provided a huge pool of workers for basic industries that needed unskilled labor. By the 1970s, Hong Kong businesses were converting from low-skilled industries to electronics, banking, and international trade, which required some basic literacy.
As a result, in 1971 Hong Kong authorities passed the first law requiring compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 11. By 1980, free education was guaranteed for children through grade nine, or junior secondary school. Three types of schools were established: government-operated public schools, privately owned and operated but with government aid (aided schools), and privately owned and operated without government aid.
Following the British system, Hong Kong's secondary students (seventh grade) were placed in classes according to their tests scores. This "banding" separated students into academic (science and humanities) and vocational tracks. Band 1 consists of students scoring in the highest 20 percent, and Band 5 is made up of students with scores in the lowest 20 percent. Also taken from the British system was the 6-3-2-2 system: primary school is six years; junior secondary school is three years; senior secondary school is two years; and Form Six (preparation for university entry exams) is two years.
Before the 1980s, there were very few institutions of higher education. The oldest is the University of Hong Kong (HKU) founded in 1911, closely followed by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), which was established in 1963. Several universities that existed earlier than the 1980s were originally postsecondary institutions, but not degree-granting university institutions.
In the 1960s about 15 percent of the population had completed senior secondary school. By 1991, the percentage had grown to 44 percent. Attendance at universities also experienced rapid growth, from 15,381 students in 1975 to 60,289 students in 1995. Even with the rapid expansion of education in the late 1990s, about 45 percent of the population aged 25 years and older had not received any secondary schooling.
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