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

Liberal studies will only widen the social gap between students

Education has long emerged as a means for reallocating wealth and social status in a community. This is the belief and real life experience of many Hong Kongers. Most of the middle-class aged between 30 and 50 have had harsh childhoods, changing their lives with determination. This not only won them university degrees, but a decent living. It is no wonder, therefore, that they put particular emphasis on the quality of their children's education. Although their success can be attributed to the old-fashioned spoon-fed education system, they all hate it, even though it enhanced their social status. Their childhoods were full of exams and stress. They do not want their offspring to repeat it and have demanded reforms and the government has responded.

In the past 20 years, progressive education has emerged involving learning how to learn rather than acquiring knowledge; assessment rather than exams. This is why many students from wealthy families are sent to international schools - to search for this goal - and this is the way reform is heading. The debate is whether it is technically feasible.

In the 1970s, educators discovered the potential hazards of liberal studies. It disrupted the function of education to reallocate wealth and social status. Poor students could not benefit from this open model education, lacking the most basic common sense, and class boundaries widened further.

Liberal studies requires the most analytical inter-subject knowledge and self-development studying ability. When students are no longer required to recite, how are they to collect information needed to finish their inter-subject learning projects? They also need analytical power, the skill to handle relationships, and a fair language standard. These rely more on family environment and are known as literal assets.

For students from different backgrounds, exams based on memorisation are comparatively fair. But if liberal studies is introduced, it could result in a huge gap between students with well-educated parents - enjoying reading habits since childhood and trips to Europe - and those from single-parent families, living on pensions and part-time work. Interpretation, communication, understanding, analysis and thinking abilities can only be acquired through experience. Progressive education may be better than traditional methods, but it only deepens social divisions.

Liberal studies has always been a possible threat to society.


Walking on water with Tim Hamlett - E5

Knowledge for the public

I am a teacher who did a first degree and master's degree at two of Hong Kong's most established universities and recently completed a postgraduate DipEd at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd).

I can personally corroborate the results of the leaked survey you recently reported on students' views of their alma maters. The staff at HKIEd spend much more time supporting their students than I have experienced elsewhere.

Why was the survey 'kept under wraps' and not made public by the University Grants Committee (UGC)? Surely universities are publicly funded institutions and the public has a right to know what former students think. Could the UGC explain why it tried to keep such data secret?