Civics gives all-rounders solid bridge to global community
There's more to education than the traditional three 'Rs' and innovative approaches are gaining currency in the mainstream as educators realise the need for a broader base from which to tackle life
TREE-PLANTING, mock elections and fact-finding trips to Third-World slums are among student activities in civic education. But how much they help shape students' perceptions of the world and their social duties is open to question.
Despite an emphasis on moral and civic education under education reform, schools have generally put them at the bottom of their priority list. 'It would be better if there were a particular group responsible for planning and implementing the training in a systematic way. More staff would also be deployed to do the job if moral and civil education were a priority,' said Li Yiu-por, a Chinese language and culture teacher at Carmel Divine Grace Foundation Secondary School.
'It is important because it affects students' whole-person development and their perspectives on things in life. In our school, more attention is paid to student counselling and religious activities.'
Like many of his colleagues, he brings up moral and ethical issues such as homosexuality and human cloning for discussion during class. 'I have told students about the values of Confucius in explaining Chinese culture, and approached issues from the Christian perspectives in Biblical knowledge classes. But the Bible does not have clear stances on many of the issues we face today. As teachers, our role is to tell students about various views and help them make judgments on their own. There also needs to be room for class discussion.'
Under the integrated humanities course which is increasingly being adopted by schools for junior forms, students also visited venues such as Legislative Council to familiarise themselves with the concept of citizenship. Senior form students may have other priorities.
At the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA) David Li Kwok Po College, for example, the focus is more on improving study skills and career counselling, according to deputy principal Wan Yuen-ming. 'But we involve them in various competitions or activities organised by social organisations revolving around particular topics,' she said, acknowledging the key role schools play as a fertile ground for cultivating socially accepted values among young people.
What each school offers also depends on its students' needs. 'As a new school, we find it most important to promote students' discipline and sense of belonging,'Ms Wan said.
Students may be the weakest, though, in coming to grips with global issues. Under government guidelines issued in 1996, citizenship education for primary and secondary schools and kindergartens is expected to cover knowledge about the international community and each individual's basic rights and responsibilities as a member of the global village.
The Second IEA Civic Education Study covering 28 countries and carried out in 1999 showed only 17 per cent of students in Hong Kong were interested in both local and international issues, compared with 51.4 per cent among their counterparts in Shanghai. Only 27 per cent of the educators polled in Hong Kong said they were satisfied with the provision of education in international perspectives, as opposed to 51 per cent in Shanghai.
More than half of the 5,000 local Form Three students polled for the survey learned about issues such as globalisation, poverty and hunger and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, mainly through talks offered at school assemblies, whereas in Shanghai, it was far more common for students to engage in social outreach activities, according to the survey.
Lee Wing-on, head of the Hong Kong Institute of Education's Centre for Citizenship Education, who conducted the local study for the IEA research, said: 'Hong Kong people showed a high standard of civic quality when they marched peacefully on July 1 last year. Hong Kong students also have good civic knowledge as their civic knowledge ranked top five among the countries involved in survey.
'However, they were relatively weaker in their interests in participating in politically-oriented civic activities.' His findings were presented at a forum on global citizenship education held last week by Oxfam and the HKIEd at the HKMA David Li Kwok Po College. 'Schools generally care more about the major academic subjects such as languages and mathematics rather than civics-related areas.'
Professor Lee added that school-based assessment of students should be diversified by including students' performance in civic activities.
At the forum, the Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun acknowledged the importance of broadening students' local and international outlook. She has written letters posted on the EMB's website promoting cores values including integrity and patriotism.
'Education reform is intended to equip our new generation with the ability to live in a global era. We need to help our students learn to respect others and engage in exchanges with people from other cultures. Education in both Hong Kong and Shanghai aims to train students as global citizens,' she said and pledged to increase pre-service and in-service training for teachers responsible for general education. She expects teachers to be 'willing to make contact with the society and know how to help their students learn how to learn through questioning'.
But what is also required may be additional effort and determination in schools to build up the 'citizenship value' of their students. 'The biggest concern is not the official policy but the time and resources that schools busy with education reforms can offer,' said Kwan Wai-wah, head of the civic education panel at Chang Pui Chung Memorial School.