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Sunday, Jan 17, 2021

Hong Kong’s biggest international school group ESF vows to look into student complaints of racism, inappropriate behaviour against teachers

Move sparked by letter from student accusing teachers of mocking Asian names and performing dubious uniform checks on female schoolmates. More than 1,100 signatures collected in petition calling for change
Hong Kong’s biggest international school group has pledged to look into multiple complaints from students accusing teachers at one of its secondary branches of racist and inappropriate behaviour.

More than 1,100 signatures were collected by Tuesday in an online petition initiated by a student of King George V School (KGV), demanding that management directly address the matter and reform policies.

An open letter from the Year 13 student, which was addressed to both the Ho Man Tin school and the English Schools Foundation (ESF), accused teachers of “making fun of the names of Asian students” and making female students uncomfortable through uniform checks done “purposefully”.

At least three students who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity agreed with some of the content in the letter, and called for changes.

In a reply, ESF said they were willing to meet the letter writer or other students, and “examine the points raised in a supportive manner”.

“While we were extremely surprised by the content of this petition, we know that it would be wrong to simply dismiss it,” a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The Post learned KGV principal Mark Blackshaw had already reached out to all Year 13 students for a meeting to “work through the concerns raised” and listen to their experiences.

The 2,900-word letter, signed by a “class of 2020 graduate”, claimed some teachers had been involved in blatant sexist acts and allowed the normalisation of racism on campus by making “casually racist statements” for years.

“Mispronouncing, misspelling, and mocking names of Asian students were a daily occurrence, simply due to the fact that some teachers feel comfortable making fun of non-white students,” the writer said.

“As a person of colour who has frequently witnessed the unfair punishment of … non-white students in KGV in particular, the current global climate regarding attitudes towards racism has made me realise I cannot stay silent on the racism perpetuated within ESF schools.”

Despite there being almost no black students on campus, the writer said schoolmates would commonly use the derogatory “N-word” on others, acts which were “often overlooked by staff, rendering them complicit in racist behaviours by allowing them to continue”.

She also described what she said was “sexualisation of female students” by male teachers, given the school’s dress code which requires pupils to have their socks “above and covering their ankles” and a skort no shorter than 10cm from the knee.

She said teachers would “purposefully look up” students’ skorts – shorts with a fabric lining resembling a skirt covering in front – to see if they were of an “appropriate length”, while students were told their sock lengths “should not be long enough to cover your knees, or else we would look like Japanese schoolgirls”.

A Year 12 student said teachers would often “make fun of students’ Asian names”.

“A lot of us would switch to an English name,” she said.

She added some students felt uncomfortable when their uniforms were checked by a male teacher.

“There is one particular teacher who would go around and tell students to stand up, and he will put his hands against your leg.”
Another senior student at KGV said some of his peers had described the act of scrutinising students’ uniform length as “dehumanising”.

“It makes them feel like an object that is being measured,” he said.

KGV has about 1,800 students in the school year 2019-20 according to government figures, with about 21 per cent being locals. Fees range between HK$133,800 (US$17,260) and HK$140,700 per student annually.

A parent said she found KGV to be inclusive and without “serious racism”, adding that she believed the rules for female uniforms were reasonable.

“[The principal] has introduced new rules on uniforms, including on the length of skorts and school socks,” she said.

“I know that students do not like these rules. But before, the skorts were really short and they wore different types of socks and shoes. Now they have rules to follow and that is what a uniform should be.”

She added: “KGV students should appreciate what they have and work hard on what they should be as students of the school … I do hope that KGV can remain peaceful.”

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