PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 September, 2004, 12:00am

Government should closely monitor English standards at private schools

I am writing to express my dismay and shock at the dismal standards found in numerous private language schools throughout Kong Kong.

I have recently been working on a summer school as an English language teacher at a reputable school in Hong Kong. While there, I scanned several publications, including the South China Morning Post, with a view to obtaining long-term work. Following up responses to the many adverts for English language teachers, I was shocked by the appallingly low standards I encountered in many private schools.

Hong Kong appears to be full of wealthy, bored housewives, who, with a smattering of English, take it upon themselves to open obscure schools offering 'quality' language teaching to the under 11s. Such schools delude the public into believing colourfully decorated environments equate to quality language learning for their offspring.

In the past two weeks, in addition to being offered illegal work, I also witnessed appalling naivety from prospective employers. I have seen six-month-old babies exposed to lexical sets that included such useful vocabulary as 'tongue depressor' and 'hypodermic needle'. Could someone please explain where this fits into the life of a child under one?

Why are these independent private schools not closely monitored? I have skimmed the surface and am left feeling only sympathy for the unsuspecting parents whose hard earned dollars appear to be wasted on inferior education.

As the Hong Kong government appears to be very pro-English and channels a lot of money into improving the language skills of adults, where is the sense in these smaller schools not being monitored closely? I am now leaving Hong Kong, disappointed and disillusioned.


Queensland, Australia

Cheap option is not the best solution

In the eyes of politicians and businessmen, it looks cheaper to replace teachers with computers. Teachers are expensive. They are expendable and expenditure on teachers is recurrent.

Computers appear cheaper and costs are non-recurrent. But does it make sense? Government officials and managers of higher education like to tell us that in the age of 'knowledge economy', Hong Kong needs more computer-literate and better-educated workers to stay competitive.

Does computerised education deliver economic growth the way politicians and businessmen believe? What about development, freedom of personal growth and the quality of education? In the eyes of politicians and businessmen, 'knowledge economy' is a money issue. When some of us see something we covet, we twist it, distort it, and try to make money from it. Education? It's just a tool in financial control.

It is sad to see that education is no longer about the development of the individual, but reduced to a money-making machine, a business model of certain capitalist interests. The 'knowledge economy', knowledge as such, does not set people free. Knowledge enslaves people when it becomes a business tool for profit-maximisation. In this business model, students and teachers are turned into commodities to be traded. Worse still, the student-teacher relationship is degraded to that of shoppers and sellers in the wet market. The bottom line is the barebone budget.

When auditors quantify the 'unit cost' of our students' education and measure the 'management efficiency' of individual departments, what cannot be quantified does not exist. What cannot be counted in numbers does not count. The idea of a university is gone. All the talk about 'mission' and 'vision' on the lips of senior managers of institutes of higher education sound like empty words. The buzzwords today in Hong Kong's higher education are 'budget deficit', 'funding cuts', 'one-line budgets', 'restructuring', 'mergers', 'management efficiency reviews', 'globalisation', and 'knowledge economy'.

When people are drowned by numbers, the big picture of education is lost. When auditors recommend replacing teachers with computers, increasing class sizes, pushing web-based teaching as a cheaper solution, putting 'talking heads' of famous professors on course websites, replacing face-to-face meetings with online teaching, or hiring cheaper teaching assistants to replace professors, quality is gone.

Who will suffer? Students, teachers, parents, prospective employers. What will suffer? Education standards and the community. What does number-crunching have to do with education? How much more cutting corners should we tolerate? Teachers, parents, and education leaders should fight for the highest standards of honesty and integrity.


The Chinese University of Hong Kong