Understanding the School Structure in Hong Kong: A Deep Dive into International and Local Schools

As experienced education consultants based in Hong Kong, we understand that navigating the city’s complex education system can be a daunting task for parents and students alike, especially if you’re considering moving to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has a unique blend of Eastern and Western pedagogical philosophies, resulting in a diverse school structure. In this comprehensive guide, we will explain the school structure in Hong Kong, the differences between international and local schools, and provide a grade conversion table.

School Structure in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s education system is divided into four main stages: pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary education.

Pre-primary Education

Pre-primary education, commonly referred to as Kindergarten, caters to children aged 3 to 5. It is a critical stage where children are introduced to a structured learning environment for the first time. Hong Kong kindergartens adopt a child-centered approach, focusing on cultivating creativity and nurturing curiosity. Teachers strive to create a warm and fun environment to foster a love for learning in these early years.

Primary Education

Following pre-primary education, children enter primary education at the age of 6. This stage spans six years, from Primary 1 to Primary 6. The curriculum at this stage is designed to provide a strong foundation in core academic subjects such as Chinese, English, Mathematics, and General Studies. The education system also emphasizes co-curricular activities to ensure holistic development.

Secondary Education

Secondary education is further split into junior and senior secondary.

Junior secondary education covers three years, from Form 1 to Form 3. During these years, students are exposed to a broad curriculum encompassing a wide range of subjects. The focus is on creating a solid foundation that can be built upon in the later years.

Senior secondary education spans three years, from Form 4 to Form 6. During this stage, the curriculum becomes more specialized, with students choosing academic and elective subjects based on their interests and career aspirations. The culmination of senior secondary education is the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE), a qualification that is recognized worldwide.

Tertiary Education

Post-secondary education in Hong Kong offers a wide array of programs to cater to diverse interests and career paths. These range from sub-degree courses like Higher Diplomas and Associate Degrees to undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs.

International Schools vs Local Schools

A significant decision parents in Hong Kong face is choosing between local and international schools. The primary difference between these lies in the curriculum and language of instruction.

Local Schools

Local schools in Hong Kong strictly adhere to the curriculum set by the Hong Kong Education Bureau. The medium of instruction is predominantly Chinese (Cantonese), although English is taught as a mandatory second language. The curriculum in local schools is more exam-oriented, with a significant emphasis on rote learning. Students are often required to memorize and recall information, particularly in core subjects like Chinese, English, and Mathematics.

International Schools

International schools, on the other hand, offer a variety of curriculums including the International Baccalaureate (IB), British (GCSE, A-Levels), American (AP), and others. These schools usually instruct in English and place a greater emphasis on a holistic education approach. This means that alongside academics, they focus on developing other aspects such as students’ creativity, critical thinking skills, and personal and social development. International schools also provide a more diverse cultural environment with students from various nationalities.

Grade Conversion

Understanding the grade conversion is crucial when transitioning between different education systems. Here’s a comprehensive table for reference:

HK Local SystemBritish SystemAmerican SystemIB
Primary 1-6Year 1-6Grade K-5
Form 1-3Year 7-9Grade 6-8MYP Year 1-3
Form 4-5Year 10-11Grade 9-10MYP Year 4-5
Form 6Year 12-13Grade 11-12DP Year 1-2

The process of selecting the right school in Hong Kong is a complex one, with numerous factors to consider. These include the child’s linguistic abilities, academic aspirations, adaptation to different teaching methods, and cultural preferences. As education consultants, we assist parents in making an informed decision that best suits their child’s needs and potential.


In conclusion, Hong Kong offers a diverse and robust education system, with both local and international schools providing unique and valuable learning experiences. Whether you opt for a local school that emphasizes traditional learning methods or an international school with a global curriculum, you can be assured of a high-quality education that nurtures the leaders of tomorrow.

Navigating Hong Kong’s education system can be challenging, but with the right information and guidance, you can make the best decision for your child’s future. we hope this guide provides some clarity about the school structure in Hong Kong, the differences between local and international schools, and the grade conversion system.

If you’re looking for the best fit of schools around Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia or Canada – our educational consultant Jessica Yuen has over 9 years of experience in helping families find the right educational journeys for their children. You can shoot us a message here.

We provide families with an all-in-one solution for migration, admissions consultancy and readiness assessments.

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