Too little commitment to education initiatives
The Education Commission has done a good job in focusing community attention on the quality of our school education. On making various proposals to enhance quality, the commission rightly suggests that without the right human resources, even the best-devised system cannot function well, nor bring about desired outcomes.
Hong Kong spends less than five per cent of gross national product on education, lagging behind many countries. This leads to problems that can impair the quality of education, the worst being the insufficient number of teachers.
Many teachers are overworked. Normal duties are extensive: planning lessons, teaching, marking assignments and test papers, punishing misbehaving students, counselling, discussing with parents, attending meetings, organising extra-curricular activities, administrative duties, various workshops and seminars.
Other educational initiatives and civic education also increase the burden on teachers. Put simply, there is not the additional manpower for schools to help ease the workload.
Teachers obviously have their hands full, with no time remaining for activities conducive to real teaching and learning, such as regular, in-depth discussions with colleagues on pedagogical skills and classroom management methods.
Teaching requires time for thinking, planning, discussing, preparing and reviewing. The team approach has become an effective modern method to tackle production issues, yet teachers simply cannot afford the time to adopt a similar tack. Nor can they give adequate attention to the development of individual students.
An Education Commission report says that on consulting those in the field, 'we were struck by the perception and strong sentiments that the existing level of funding for basic education is far from adequate in certain areas'. These sentiments are still true - and still strong - and one of the areas which should be addressed is the provision of teachers.
A related issue is the type of training teachers and principals should undergo to implement recommendations in the report. Teachers are trained to teach, not to manage schools.
The kind of school envisaged in the commission's report as being capable of providing quality education is one that is managed collectively. But to conduct such management tasks requires sophisticated skills achieved only after substantial training. These include formulating a school's vision or mission, drawing up budgets, instituting staff appraisal systems, and establishing close relationships with the community. With such varied duties, teachers cannot be expected to get by on experience and common sense alone.
The commission's report does mention the need for training, but the kind of training discussed seems to lack depth, sophistication - and financial commitment.
Meanwhile, it must not be forgotten that teachers need training (and re-training) in pedagogy, which should always be their prime concern. Without a repertoire of such skills, it is difficult to effectively teach the children of today.
If teachers get the necessary resources to practise their profession and upgrade themselves professionally, it will go a long way towards attaining quality in school education.
ROBIN CHEUNG School Principal Tuen Mun