Current school system in the grip of an identity crisis
An aura of wonder surrounds education in Hong Kong. While it is clear that something is awry, the precise nature of the virus and the strategies to cure it are shrouded in uncertainty and indecision.
Perhaps better can hardly be expected of an organism in such a half-formed state. Since a country's education system springs from a clear and commonly accepted philosophical base, Hong Kong needs to define its identity and goals instead of relying on Band-Aids of buzzwords, cliches, slogans and acronyms.
Education and culture feed off each other, and the SAR is wavering at a cultural crossroads. Should it deny its Chinese heritage in favour of westernisation, or should it renounce the coloniser and cleave to the motherland? It is common for these disparate elements to collide within the educational spectrum. The rickety duality espoused in 'one country, two systems' transposes itself into 'one education system, two philosophies'. Scattershot strategies colour the scene. The Native English Teacher (NET) scheme can have at best limited success in the face of long odds. Many schools have not yet worked out a way of optimising this resource. Like IT, the English Corner or the new Task-Based Syllabus, the novelty briefly holds the spotlight before being subsumed into the status quo.
These measures may form part of the cure, but they will have no more than stopgap effect until more basic issues are addressed. A public education initiative should aim at reforming the existing model of parenting by which material enticements and mindless defensive support substitute for quality family life. Pastoral care is not the sole responsibility of the teacher. Teachers, parents and other partners need to instil in children a love of learning for itself instead of for tinsel rewards which ultimately foster arrested development and cloying dependency.
The monocular focus on exams and the stress on rote learning not only misses the goal of lifelong learning but also hampers the development of vital problem-solving skills. There is a critical need for the development of a reading culture that would stimulate creativity, writing skills and moral values in young minds.
Professional upgrading of teachers should continue, and the counselling programme should be developed to contend with the many social, emotional and psychological problems that beset young learners. Class sizes should be reduced.
After serving as a NET for three years, I recognise the deep-rooted nature of most of these problems. Nevertheless, it is more worthwhile for the planners to get to grips with them than to continue spinning their wheels in a morass of MOI, IT, EERS, IEC and the like.