Teachers and principals used as scapegoats

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 October, 1997, 12:00am

Had the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Joseph Wong Wing-ping, been right in claiming that it is teachers who are responsible for the fall of language standards, our whole education system would have been a complete failure.

As teachers were ex-students, to extend his logic, university lecturers and professors especially those in faculties of education would also be responsible. And who was it who employed these 'bad' teachers in the first place? University and government officials.

Mr Wong is pro-Education Department and pro-government. It would be impossible for him to blame the Government and the universities, or he would face strong attacks from these institutions. School principals and teachers have become scapegoats, with parents and students finding it easy to heap all the blame for deteriorating standards on those teachers who have to do their jobs on a daily basis. These teachers and principals are front-line fighters, who are assessed in terms of examination results.

They meet their students every day and most of them genuinely care about those in their classes, even those band five students. It is frustrating that non-teachers as well as some government officers keep on complaining without making any effort to empathise with the teachers.

To say that most of the teachers nowadays are 'unable' to teach well is a gross exaggeration. Forcing teachers to take part in a language test is tantamount to saying that the qualifications they got from their faculty, be it a faculty of education, or other government-recognised universities, are not worth the paper on which they are printed.

Teachers deserve to be treated with more respect. They should be given positive encouragement through awards and better promotion prospects. This is preferable to saying subjectively, 'You will be fired if you cannot pass the test, or if you are not teaching well.' Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has talked about providing incentives to ensure economic growth. This same approach should be applied to education.

I have been disappointed by government inconsistencies when it comes to education policy. One area to which attention must be paid, is class size, which is a crucial factor when it comes to effective teaching.

With no more than 20 pupils, even with a number of attention seekers of poor academic standard, a teacher can still manage the class. The teacher can identify those with learning problems and help them. Of course, I realise it is not practical to expect classes of 20 in the next few years. Yet it is equally impractical to increase rather than decrease class sizes, especially in primary schools. Good primary education provides a solid foundation on which to build. Surprisingly, the Government is allocating resources to those university undergraduates who are enjoying tutorials with only about 10 students; yet they are supposed to be educated and mature enough to attend and benefit from lectures with 300 students.

Another inconsistency is that 700 additional native-speaking English teachers are to be employed in secondary schools, rather than in primary schools. The Government is going to implement mother-tongue as the medium of teaching next year on the grounds that students' English ability will be a great hindrance to their understanding of other subjects. If this is true, and I do believe it is true and mother-tongue should be adopted, then we should pay more attention to English teaching in primary education. The 700 native speakers may only emphasise how serious the problem is, when they teach in fluent English without any chance of explaining in Cantonese and without any understanding of our Chinese culture.

If we are to apportion blame, policy-makers should be regarded as culprits. They are avoiding having to take responsibility, by diverting people's attention to teachers. All this will achieve is that both parents and students will lose confidence in the school education system.