Elite schools perpetuate inequalities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2012, 12:00am

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It was the annual tears of joy and bitter disappointment for tens of thousands of children and their parents earlier this month when they were told whether they had been accepted into their secondary schools of choice.

Predictably, the elite schools were the most sought-after. The better known government schools and others with an also-run reputation served as plan B, while all the others were reserved for the hoi polloi. And if your kids can't compete academically, well, send them to international schools or overseas - if you can afford it.

It's classic class warfare for the interests of the middle and upper classes. It's a system that allows a few exceptional students from poor families to join the royal schools, just to preserve the fiction of equal opportunity.

Economists and sociologists have long known that a child's likely educational attainment and future earning power are a function of those of his parents. My guess is that Hong Kong provides an even higher correlation. Talk about social and income inequalities in our society!

And that is the secret of success of the so-called elite schools. Their teachers aren't necessarily better; I have met many teachers in schools in low-income districts who are usually younger and more idealistic.

It's the professional and educational backgrounds of the parents that ensure children excel; and these pupils are the ones most likely to end up admitted to the top schools. With tiger mums and dads, a child will do well academically even with the worst teachers.

You can blame the government. The Brits started it. But their lackeys-turned-bosses, former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and ex-education chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung, restored it to placate the vested interests. Above all, blame the parents, the churches, and teachers and principals. They have fought every attempt to reform the system.

In his idealism and naivety, Tung Chee-hwa, the first chief executive, dreamed of abolishing all school distinctions, and pupils would automatically attend their neighbourhood schools. The plan was dead in the water.