Mass tutoring churning out 'robot pupils'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 May, 2012, 12:00am


Preliminary results of a survey of Hong Kong pupils show most have tutors, but a former education chief at the United Nations says this is not a recipe for success.

Mark Bray, who is now a professor of comparative education at the University of Hong Kong, surveyed 1,720 pupils in 16 schools this past academic year, and found that 54 per cent of Form Three pupils have tutors, and an alarming 72 per cent of Form Six students have tutors.

Bray said the pervasiveness of private tutoring creates social inequalities. 'If you're rich, you have a one-on-one tutor, and if you're not so rich, you can go to King's Glory and it won't cost a lot.'

King's Glory Education Centre is one of the many 'cram schools' that have become lucrative businesses and provide exam tips. He said this system was churning out 'robots' that excel in exams, but have scant time for non-academic activities.

Bray, who was director of Unesco's International Institute for Educational Planning in Paris between 2006 and 2010, compared his results to those of other countries.

He found that the Hong Kong results were closest to South Korea - considered the country with the most competitive academic culture - where 72 per cent of middle school pupils have tutors, and 60 per cent of high school pupils have tutors. He also interviewed hundreds of pupils and teachers, and the study results will be released later this year.

The problem of private tutoring - or 'shadow education' - is global, but Bray said the four places with the most pupils receiving tutoring were South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, though the number in mainland China is rapidly growing.

The numbers are far lower in Europe - where 8 per cent of British secondary school pupils and 33 per cent of French upper secondary pupils have tutors, but the problem was severe enough that the European Union commissioned Bray to write a report on the implications of private tutoring on its member countries.

'I would like our schools to be strong so [the pupils] don't need to go [to tutors], but the reality is, they are going,' said Bray.

He said Hong Kong public schools, compared with other countries', were considered well funded so the government should have no excuse for not raising standards.

Bray is one of 74 Unesco chair professors in the world who are charged with achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Bray's role is pushing for equal and high-quality education for all children worldwide. There are now three Unesco chair professors in Hong Kong.

'We are in a competitive society and it is getting more competitive, and that is shaping our education system,' said Bray.

He urged parents not to neglect the personal development of their children. 'Parents need to have an overview of the child's development and realise there are other things in life.'

Another issue, he says, is that it is difficult to assess the quality of education in tutoring centres, as they are not regulated by the government. 'While teachers have to be trained, you don't have to be trained to be a tutor,' he said.

He urged the government to look to Finland, where pupils are just as successful as their Asian peers but without the help of tutoring. He said this was because schools cater to a diverse group of learners, low achievers can get remedial help, and parents and pupils trust their teachers.