Muddled meddling masked as reform

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 March, 2006, 12:00am

Even before Donald Tsang Yam-kuen became financial secretary, the government was talking about small government, about the wisdom of market forces and about the virtues of positive non-intervention.

Chances are they either don't believe what they do, or they don't do what they preach. No wonder central to the Chief Executive's philosophy of governance is one of strong leadership, or strong-armed leadership.

I was pondering over a few obituaries of our former financial secretary Sir John Cowperthwaite who died recently. He served during Sir David Trench's term and witnessed the riots and the aftermath of Cultural Revolution which shook Hong Kong to its roots. Sir John's philosophy of positive non-intervention became the necessary cornerstone for Sir Murray MacLehose who implemented nine years of compulsory education, seeing education as a means to social justice and equality.

But it was also since then we've been bombarded with terminology such as medium of instruction, discretionary places and central allocation, green and white papers and successive education reform documents.

If today's teachers are in any doubt about the culprit of the much-criticised education reform, it was Sir Murray who started them rolling.

The nature of education today has clearly been abused when everyone is obsessed with accountability and justification to the point where creativity has become a luxury.

When Sir John was asked to justify his initiatives with statistics, he famously said: 'Oh, we can't do that. If we did, people would only try to use those statistics and where would we be then?'

Sir John probably would have scoffed at those mountains of reform documents and smiled at the ignorance and gullibility of the teaching profession.

And the bureaucrats must have forgotten the essence of education - that basically teachers teach and students learn, however you might interpret it. Unfortunately some demand more from teachers and less from students. Any teacher would testify standards have slumped, and not only in languages.

Those reform papers are likely to breed more reform papers. To make reform more academically and socially respectable, the government has begun to lace it with sweeteners, the latest of which is generous funding for Chinese medium schools and low achievers.

The reform shouldn't have started. It's half-baked O-level sociology which benefits nobody, breeds distrust and has tarnished the reputation of the profession.

Sir John's legacy must be a lesson for everyone.

Believe me. I'm a teacher.

Francis Wann is an English teacher in an aided secondary school.