Creating choice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 12:00am

Changes rarely happen overnight. Despite last month's High Court ruling confirming that the secondary school allocation system discriminates against girls, a complete turnabout could not be made this year. The Education Department is trying to devise a system that will ensure girls have an equal chance of winning a place at the school of their choice, but it will not be ready until next year.

Between 2,500 and 4,000 girls out of 81,000 Primary Six students are estimated to have lost out in choice of schools to boys with lower marks. The numbers are believed to be far less than in previous years. But it will be no comfort to pupils who fear they are missing out on the best possible education. If students are sure they have a strong case, obviously they must appeal, and they should receive a sympathetic hearing. But it is not the end of the world if they have to settle for less.

The education map between schools is already being redrawn with the banding system reduced to three instead of five. A wider range of mixed ability students in schools is removing the 'elitist' tag that allowed certain institutions to attract the brightest pupils. Sometimes that led to a sense of complacency, whereas schools moving up have been given a sharpened sense of purpose.

When A-level results came out two weeks ago, some straight-A students came from schools in the New Territories that are not so well known to the wider public. At the Holy Carpenter Primary in To Kwa Wan, whose headmaster Yue Yun-fai was chosen as one of Business Week's 50 Stars of Asia, many students, including recent arrivals from the mainland, won places at schools with a good reputation.

So children who are disappointed by their placements should not lose heart. If they have the ability to shine, they will get top marks wherever they are educated. Instead of allowing grievance to take root, parents can help by bolstering their children's confidence, stressing that they would rather see them happy in a lesser school than struggling to stay ahead in a so-called 'top' institution. Too much pressure takes its toll on students. A good, supportive family atmosphere can do as much to help a child realise his or her full potential as the very best of teachers.

Hong Kong schools have many faults that are letting our young people down. But those who care to look at alternative systems overseas will find that they have their own sets of problems too.