Class system must change

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 September, 2000, 12:00am

It is natural that many parents of children attending leading schools feel apprehensive about education reform. Choice has been straightforward up to now. While these schools can select about two-thirds of their intake from the most promising pupils, they have an advantage in examinations. But when the selection process is cut back from 65 per cent to 20, as it will be in six years' time, the balance will be tipped in the other direction. Classes will cease to be dominated by academically gifted children, so it is not unexpected that parents worry that bright pupils will be held back in mixed-ability classes.

When the change comes - and it is going to be a gradual and relatively painless process - it will be for teaching staff to prove it is their skills that produce results, not just the innate intelligence of their pupils.

Several schools raised objections to a cutback in the selection process in their submissions to the Education Commission during its consultation period. Obviously, some would prefer not to face the challenge, and there are already indications of strong parental backing for that position.

A sizeable proportion of the population is not in favour of reducing elitism. That is why some families already plan to send their children to foreign schools. If they can afford to pay for private education overseas, that is their right, although in some cases it will mean sacrificing family life in favour of perceived educational advantage. It may not always be a good trade.

Hong Kong is a city where most parents dream of getting their children into the best schools and seeing them achieve top grades. The only thing wrong with this ambition is that it leads to a highly competitive school environment and can put undue pressure on sensitive pupils to outperform their peers. When there is less emphasis on examinations, and progress is monitored by consistent performance in class, schooling will lose its pressure-cooker atmosphere. It will be equally liberating for teachers when they are no longer required to cram facts into pupils. Instead they can set about inspiring students to enjoy learning for its own sake. This, in the main, is the system children will experience in schools overseas. What a private establishment can guarantee, of course, is small classes, and that is not likely to be the case here.

No doubt there will be a concerted effort by some to keep the system of privilege; but the Government must reject any attempt to retain the status quo. Reform favours the majority of children, and progress can only come through the greater good of the whole community.