Through train under attack for being elitist

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 May, 2004, 12:00am

System doomed to perpetuate class distinctions and block upward mobility, say education experts

The through-train system from primary to secondary schools could create a permanent under-class, education experts have warned.

Hong Kong Institute of Education vice-president Professor Bernard Luk Hung-kay and Dora Choi Po-king, assistant professor of the Department of Educational Administration and Policy at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said poor students were likely to stay in schools at the lower end of academic performance under the system.

The through-train system, recommended by the Education Commission in 2000, encourages primary and secondary schools to pair up as 'through schools' to provide consistent, seamless schooling for children.

The purpose was to minimise early drilling in academic subjects that competition for secondary places led to. The Education Commission had hoped many schools would join.

'The system will work only if all schools in Hong Kong are good schools,' Professor Luk said. 'However, in reality, school differences exist, especially in new towns and several older districts with a concentration of public housing estates. Schools in these areas admit a majority of students from low income or new arrival families with weak economic, cultural and family background, and tend to perform weakly in examinations,' he said.

'There are relatively few good schools in these areas. When good secondary schools become through schools, the majority of primary students, who are mainly from lower classes, will be barred from entering them.

'And as the income scale in Hong Kong still rewards people with high academic qualifications, these poor students will have less chance to move upward in the social ladder,' he said.

Dr Choi said under the primary allocation method, the middle class was more likely to get children admitted to elite primary and secondary schools. Primary schools were allowed to offer 50 per cent of Primary One places through discretionary admission, giving priority to children of alumni and the same church. Interviews were also used for selection, she said.

'Traditionally, these elite primary schools are feeder schools of their secondary schools, which offer only 15 per cent of places for central allocation,' she said.

Professor Luk said that it would be even worse if secondary schools of low banding became through schools because their students would be doomed to remain in the lower end of education system.

However, Education Commission member Tai Hay-lap said the through-train was not a closed system. Secondary schools had places available as they were generally larger than their primary feeder school.

Primary school students could still choose between the paired school and other schools in the central allocation system, Mr Tai said.

He added that it was unlikely that many schools would become through schools because of differences in teaching and school operation. There are now 22 through schools, mainly prestigious secondary schools that have long been linked to feeder primaries, and new schools.

'Through schools have to provide a consistent curriculum for 11 years of elementary education, and secondary schools have to take in all students from their paired primary schools regardless of their abilities,' said Mr Tai.

'The main reason ... is to provide innovative and all-round education to students. It would be most unfair to say that they do this only for their own good.'