Education goals 'too ambitious'

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2000, 12:00am

Education reformers have been warned their plans may be too ambitious. Citing lessons from the abortive reforms of the past decades, Professor Lau Siu-kai, of Chinese University, said a major obstacle was the difficulty in changing the culture and mind-set of teachers, students and officials and the power relationship in classrooms.

'I applaud their [the Education Commission's] ideals. But I'm afraid they are goals that are difficult to attain,' he said. Professor Lau, a sociologist, said an essential condition was that 'teachers have real autonomy and students take the initiative in reshaping the content of learning'.

The danger now, he said, was that 'we want to go ahead with comprehensive reform with the old mind-set and with the same group of people with no extra resources. The multi-faceted reforms will create enemies from all sides. As the Government is still unpopular, people have doubts whether these are half-hearted measures. They don't know how determined the Government is and doubt if it is capable of implementing the changes.' The academic said experience showed many well-intended policies had failed ultimately in implementation. He cited the policy of encouraging university academics to develop research. 'The result is that people have gone to the other extreme and spent all their time on articles for international journals at the expense of classes. They end up with a failure to do a good job in both research and teaching. Like the Academic Aptitude Test, the original intention is to encourage thinking. The result is that it has become too mechanical. Many policies that are meant to achieve intended results have created unintended consequences.

'The Government has appeared to adopt a top-down approach in its education reform. But initiative from the bottom is important. Reforms have been over-ambitious and over-estimated their ability, under-estimated the resistance from vested interests and the ability of people to play around the system.' Sweeping changes to the education system were proposed in a consultative document published by the Education Commission last week. It covers changes in admission and curriculum from kindergarten to universities. The aim is to move the focus away from exams and towards creative thinking.

Professor Lau cautioned against hasty changes when conditions were not ripe. He said reformers should take note of fears over the demise of 'elite schools' after the introduction of a geographically based admission system in primary schools.

'People do not want to see the abolition of all elite schools. They want to retain a diversified, open and fair education system with different schools. They want equal opportunity, not egalitarianism. If you destroy the education system that has allowed people to move up the social ladder, you run the risk of undermining the whole system.'


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