Reform of elite schools deserve parents' support

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 12:00am

The education reform consultative document released recently has received plaudits from various sectors of the community. Amid the furore created by the Education Commission's proposals, echoes of dissent could be heard.

Major opposition to the increase in centrally allocated primary one places has triggered fears that some parents may move house to districts where the elite schools are located, while others may use fake addresses. Critics also attacked the cancellation of public examinations, claiming that it may result in a lack of motivation for students to study hard. A Federation of Youth Groups survey conducted on May 10 and 11 revealed that about 25 per cent of parents interviewed disapproved of the changes in the primary school admission mechanism, while an equal proportion disagreed with the abolition of the Certificate of Education Examination.

Parents' misguided and inveterate belief in elitism can be traced back to the old days when inadequate education provisions gave rise to keen competition for school places and the selection of students through public examinations. Elite schools became choosy in their student intake, and some of them strove to build up their reputation by obtaining good public exam results, even though such a practice violated the basic principles of education. For decades, the sole purpose of education for many people who wanted their children to succeed in life, was to acquire academic excellence, which would automatically provide a passport to employment and wealth. Consequently, parents scrambling for elite school places used every means at their disposal and students combatting physical and mental strain to pass examinations became the order of the day. It will take much time and effort to eradicate an anachronistic concept that has, for generations, gripped people's minds.

It is therefore somewhat disappointing that the commission has not devoted attention to redressing this public attitude. This could pose a stumbling block to the implementation of its reform blueprint, in the same way that mother-tongue teaching received setbacks due to the lack of public education.

Public education strategies should be employed to wake people up to the new meaning of 'survival of the fittest' in a modern, knowledge-based society. Modern economies requires not just scholars with good academic records, but graduates who have knowledge in multiple domains, all-round physical and artistic skills, independent and analytical thinking, the ability to adapt, a global outlook, and a sense of commitment to society.

Extensive publicity efforts should be made to help parents accept the proposed basic competency assessments as a viable alternative to the existing public examinations. Only a reformed education system can effectively produce the kind of workers who can stand up to the trials and challenges of our time.

In the long term, the Government should introduce competition among schools in granting direct subsidy to enable only those schools with good performance to improve their curricula and facilities, eventually producing more quality schools for parents to choose.

The proposed reforms are bound to generate opposition from teachers, school authorities and government officials. However, their resistance is not insurmountable, given that service providers have to cater to changing needs of the community whose support is crucial to the success of the reforms. The commission's broad vision and ideas are highly commendable. The commission has not only proposed changes in our education system, but also changes in the lives of our young people.