Learning to think about our objectives

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 July, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 1997, 12:00am

Later this month I will be fielding my first motion in the Provisional Legislative Council and it will be on education reform.

To prepare for the subject, I have finished a 17-page analysis covering various aspects of Hong Kong education as it emerges from a colonial past and into a Special Administrative Region future.

For the final years of British rule our society was induced to focus on politics to the neglect of many issues of greater urgency. Education was one of these matters not properly addressed, a lapse that must now be corrected.

The subject of education is so complex and has such sweeping ramifications that its review should be a community-wide undertaking rather than an individual's solo brief.

Reforming education is difficult in the SAR because it has to be gradually weaned of the colonial influence which taught our youths to obey rather than initiate, to listen rather than initiate, to listen rather than think and to have self-doubt rather than self confidence.

Before leaving, former governor Chris Patten decried vehemently the inevitable rewriting of Hong Kong's history books by SAR educators when for generations the British administration had a monopoly on the practice.

No one is better placed than Elsie Tu to recall how the teaching of history and indeed Chinese culture was either discouraged or distorted to cater for colonial expediency and to ensure that the natives were docile. Tsang Yok-sing and Szeto Wah also remember how teachers were threatened with disciplinary action, if not summary dismissal, for breaching the taboo against educating youngsters about Hong Kong's past and its injustices.

From now on the lessons on history, public affairs, and culture, while free from ideology, old and new, must be taught objectively but with a distinct object in mind: that of instilling in our next generation patriotism, cultural pride, personal integrity, the cosmopolitan outlook and the ability to judge for themselves.

To parry, in advance, attacks on me for making such suggestions, in the free United States where I grew up, the teaching of Americans to be patriotic is not shameful but mandatory.

Before we can go about refining and, in some instances, redefining university, secondary, primary and vocational education for the new era as proposed in my study, we have to help our youngsters answer the questions about who they are and what they are to do, questions basically of identity and destiny that had been papered over for too long.

Ibelieve the enlightenment process should start right away, though in small doses, with input from the pedagogues, parents and the Government.

This assertion of self certitude through education reform is not new. The Singaporeans also inculcated their youths with Confucian mores as an antidote to an earlier colonial rearing and the results are, a generation later, a people sure of themselves, productive, multi-lingual and savvy. Today they are nationally confident and have achieved just about the highest maths and science scores in the world.

We can accomplish the same, minus the regimentation, if we muster the resolve and, when required, hire experts to impart to us the necessary knowledge.

We can hire teachers of Putonghua from Beijing University, of English from Princeton and Cambridge, of the sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Berkeley, of laws from Oxford, and of our ancestral culture from Shanghai and Taipei just as we shop for cars without discrimination against their manufacturers of origin.

The sole purpose of education is to empower our youths to reach for the stars.

Clearly colonial education was not designed for this purpose. Now that the ball is in our court, let us start.