Lesson in education

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2001, 12:00am

The growing number of private independent schools and direct subsidy schools will add to the diversity of Hong Kong's school system which has been dominated by public provision.

But an increasing number of prestigious schools in the public sector are turning to the direct subsidy scheme (DSS) not so much because they desire greater autonomy, but because they want to continue to cream off the best students. They are unhappy with recent changes to the secondary school places allocation system under which primary graduates are grouped under three, instead of five, bands.

Previously, these schools could attract students who ranked among the top 20 per cent. Now, they are disappointed that even band-one students embrace a wider range of abilities, which arguably makes it harder for them to produce quality graduates. Educators remain divided on whether the allocation system should adopt an elitist or mixed ability approach. Some argue that grouping the best students together is the most effective way of ensuring a steady supply of elite graduates, while others feel allowing students of varying abilities to study together benefits both fast and slow learners.

But while allocation based on a wider mix of abilities has become government policy, government and aided schools have not been given adequate resources to cope with educating students of varying levels of achievement. Meanwhile, by joining the DSS, the top schools will be able to maintain the quality of their intake by setting strict admission requirements, and by charging high fees to boost tuition quality.

This would likely lead to two developments - growing meritocracy in DSS and private independent schools and increasing mediocrity, in terms of intake and resources, in government and aided schools. In a free society, a diverse range of schools should be allowed to flourish, but measures need to be taken to ensure those in the public sector do not become synonymous with a 'second-class education'.