Specialised route the right educational path
In education, getting the basics right has to be the first priority. That is why it comes as welcome news that the government plans to send extra teachers to our primary schools, with the aim of freeing up the time of teachers in the subjects of English, Chinese and maths.
Most importantly, this will allow them to spend more time teaching what they know best.
The primary beneficiaries should be the students, who are not being served as well as they should be in a system where generalists often teach a number of subjects.
Under the proposal, an average school of 1,000 students will be allocated three more teachers. In the year the plan takes effect, 2005-2006, English teachers will be freed up from teaching other subjects. Chinese and maths teachers will follow in the next two years. The extra staff time that results can be devoted to lesson-planning, professional development courses or other purposes as the schools see fit.
Some side benefits include smaller class sizes, as the teacher-to-class ratio will be higher, and alternatives for teachers who face redundancy in neighbourhoods where the school-age population is shrinking.
But the focus should be on the primary aim of the proposal: raising the quality of teaching in these fundamentally important subjects.
The Education and Manpower Bureau will give the schools some flexibility in implementing the changes, but it should not abandon its responsibility to provide guidance and support beyond just placing the teachers in the schools.
There are concerns among some educators that the new emphasis on specialisation might mean compromising the development of general skills that are not specific to any of the subjects. Such worries will have to be tackled, and have probably already been dealt with in schools where the specialised approach is being used on a trial basis, sometimes in combination with team teaching and other methods.
The lessons learned from these pilot cases should be shared with schools across the city as they make the transition. Nonetheless, the bureau's flexible approach is the right one, as it allows each school management board to choose its own path to the same goal.
And that goal should be getting the teaching of core subjects right. This is crucial in Hong Kong, where maths skills remain high but language standards are slipping.
For Hong Kong, the specialised route is the right one in these subjects, even if it bucks the global trend. The teaching of other skills does not necessarily have to be sacrificed, and indeed a strong foundation in these subjects could be a building block for raising standards generally, as would be appropriate for an international city.