talk back

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 November, 2004, 12:00am

Q Has the ESF done enough to put its house in order?

I have decided to 'talkback' in the hope I can contribute to public understanding of improvements being made throughout the English Schools Foundation. I do so as principal of an ESF school, chairman of the ESF's academic committee and a member of the new executive.

At every level the winds of change are tangible: change of leadership - Felice Lieh Mak and Heather Du Quesnay; change of executive, changes in transparency and openness; changes in pay; changes in school monitoring and self-evaluation; changes to vision and mission statements and changes to the capacity of the education officer team to support school development and many more.

So, to answer your question, has the ESF done enough, my answer would be no. It is no because when you are committed to change and to progress, you never reach a point when you say yes to this question. There will always be work to be done.

The winds of change in the ESF have been blowing for many months and we are moving on. There will be those who have failed to notice the change and prefer to 'dance in the rain'. We do not intend to be beleaguered or becalmed with them. We are moving on and I dare suggest that those with Hong Kong's children at heart (70 per cent of ESF's students are permanent residents) and Hong Kong's Asian world city image at heart, will recognise the momentum and move on with us.

Brian Driver, principal, West Island School

ESF has shown it is an organisation capable of identifying difficulties - an organisation that is willing and able to change. Examples of this from the past nine months include scrupulous attention to stakeholder participation in appointments, plus improved communication. Both have contributed to a tangible transformation in culture and have been appreciated by parents.

Is there still more work to be done? Yes, but the ESF had shown its willingness to seek help by inviting organisations such as the ICAC and the Audit Commission to review its systems. It appears sincere in wishing to co-operate with their recommendations.

In summary, many reforms have already started yet the expectation is that others will follow. Doubtless this will be helped by the arrival of the new chief executive, who by all accounts is a strong and inspiring leader.

The ESF is made up of some of the best school leaders and most dedicated teachers in the world. The foundation and the schools are supported by armies of enthusiastic, committed parents and community members. The schools are full of motivated kids who are clearly enjoying their education and getting fantastic results. Given this level of support it cannot fail to put its house in order.

Sarah Rigby, chairwoman of the ESF Joint Council of PTAs

Perhaps the question should have been 'Is the ESF doing enough to put its house in order'.

The ESF has done a great deal in recent times to put its house in order, a process that is continuing. We (parents) are pleased with the progress made so far, which has included internal and (voluntary) external analyses, the results of which are leading to many significant improvements. There's more to do, but it's being done.

It is rather unfair to continue to dwell on past difficulties when there is a much more positive story to be told. Visit the schools and see for yourself.

Mike Hill, chairman of the PTSA, King George V School

I have had a close association with ESF schools for more than 10 years and have been Sha Tin junior school PTA chairman since September and on the PTA before that. I believe your article regarding ESF is sensational at a time when ESF has done everything to put to rights the problems that surfaced earlier this year.

The education offered at ESF schools is, I believe, the best available in Asia and I know other parents share my view to the extent that some have remained in Hong Kong longer than originally planned to complete their children's education.

Many of the recommendations were already in the process of being implemented before the report was filed and the commission's statement that due process in appointments has been followed in the past nine months is clear. So in answer to your question, I believe that ESF has done and is doing enough to put it's house in order.

Peter Harper

Q What do you think of the TST improvement plans?

The plans as set out in the Consultation Digest include some very good and some very bad ideas. Plans for pedestrianisation of various roads, the widening of footpaths and greening plans are welcome, and long overdue. Plans to remove all street-level pedestrian crossings from Canton and Salisbury roads are, however, unacceptable. The reason for minimising conflicts between pedestrian and vehicular traffic with bridges and subways, according to Transport Department officials, is safety. The real reason is to maintain traffic flow and traffic speed.

The question for Hong Kong's community is whether converting Canton Road and Salisbury roads into highways is acceptable. For anyone interested in what that feels like, walk around Exchange Square, IFC, Convention Plaza and Great Eagle Centre at ground level.

The only subway in Hong Kong that 'works' connects Statue Square and the Star Ferry in Central, as it is wide and shallow. Subways built so far in TST by the KCRC, MTRC and Highways Department don't interconnect, are hard to navigate and extremely confusing.

We need to bring back the street-level crossings to give people ample access to the harbour-fronts and around TST. By improving pedestrian mobility, we can improve traffic flow by reducing the number of bus and taxi stops as it becomes easier for people to walk a bit further.

The government possesses traffic studies that show TST has reached maximum capacity for vehicular traffic and traffic jams can't be resolved. On the other hand, planned property redevelopment in TST and high-density plans for West Kowloon will inevitably bring more traffic. At a very high cost to the quality of our living environment, removal of ground level crossings only provides minimum respite for this policy mismatch.

The Housing, Lands and Planning Bureau will need to bite the bullet and limit development within the maximum capacity of our transport infrastructure. In the meantime, the Transport Department will have to speed up traffic demand measurements, including electronic road pricing, loading and unloading times for vans, circular ferries and a Hunghom-West Kowloon monorail.

Paul Zimmerman, Mid-Levels

I am amazed at the comments by your reader, Nalini Daswani, regarding pedestrianisation plans for Tsim Sha Tsui. What city is she from? For years, much of the urban development in Hong Kong gave preference to road vehicles, at the expense of pedestrians. Obviously she has not experienced the joys of walking around the streets of Hong Kong, which can be summed up in three words - a filthy nightmare. Now we are starting to see creative urban planning by the government, such as pedestrianisation schemes, as can be found in limited quantities in Stanley and Causeway Bay, which from a pedestrian and shop owners' point of view, has been a great success.

I have to ask: How can she even think the motive behind the TST project is based on benefits for the mass transit companies? Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated urban landscapes in the world, with serious traffic congestion and associated deteriorating air quality. Yet there are alternatives, as Hong Kong has one of the most efficient and reasonably priced mass transit systems, negating the need for private transport within the urban cores.

Unfortunately, it is attitudes like that of Ms Daswani that prevent Hong Kong from developing into a first-rate urban landscape for all users, where pedestrians do not have to fear for their safety.

Name and address supplied

Q Should smoking be banned in bars and restaurants?

I refer to last Thursday's Talkback letter in which the writer referred to a New England Journal of Medicine study about second-hand smoke. It is a nice case of smoke and mirrors. The phrase 'how much or whether exposure to environmental tobacco smoke increases the risk of coronary heart disease' can be read both ways. The writer chooses to read it as 'it does not'.

The study only takes care of one potential health hazard. What about others?

But all this is beside the point. I simply hate that my clothes smell like a used ashtray after a few hours in a restaurant or bar.

All restaurants and bars should have smoking and non-smoking areas - but not in the way that nearly everything is smoking area and only a tiny area hidden in the back is the non-smoking part. I suggest having smoking rooms similar to the ones at the airport. Nearly 90 per cent of the people can then enjoy their smoke-free environment and the smokers do not have to go outside to enjoy their tobacco products.

Name and address supplied

Q Have police done enough to improve safety in public parks?

Certainly not. Park robberies have kept on happening over the past two or three years. In the past when I had time, I would take a walk in the countryside of Hong Kong Island, very often in the afternoon, take some pictures and get some fresh air. I dare not go alone nowadays.

It's so sad.

Name and address supplied

On other matters...

I am astonished to read the incident reported by Wayne Chu of Taikoo Shing being provoked into speeding on the Island Eastern Corridor by an undercover police car tailgating him. Tailgating is an offence under the Road Traffic Ordinance.

The incident appears to be a deliberate entrapment by the police using an illegal method. I hope Mr Chu has reported this to the police. We drivers deserve a statement from the Commissioner of Police on whether such entrapment methods are official police policy.

K. C. Lee, Fanling


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