ESF - English Schools Foundation

Education Mailbag

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 March, 2007, 12:00am

Big promises, small results

The government and Education and Manpower Bureau continually speak of the need for higher education standards, but the rhetoric is not matched by action or the money needed to achieve them.

The best example of this failure is the hard-line attitude toward small class sizes, a vital step forward if we are to maintain, if not lift, our standards.

The EMB has taken a hard line on closing schools that have low enrolment. This policy has produced two damaging effects. First, it has seriously harmed teaching morale by forcing many experienced teachers to resign or seek employment in other schools facing the same bleak future. Second, the government refuses to spread enrolment among primary schools, thus retaining valuable resources and reducing class sizes.

Obviously a government concerned primarily with financial capital is not too concerned about human capital - the dedication of our primary and secondary staff. Rather, it invests heavily in our universities, which primarily serve wealthy corporations and foreign investors.

Class sizes must be reduced quickly since our young people are distracted by the all-pervasive media and profit-driven computer and internet temptations. They are less focused and disciplined. Family life has been damaged, creating all types of discipline problems for teachers and headmasters. If nothing is done, we can foresee a steady decline in education standards and in the behaviour of our youths.

All schools must press for smaller classes. Each primary school should tell the EMB that it will only accept 28 or 30 pupils per class this September. Each secondary school should accept only 32 to 35.

The EMB keeps preaching 'quality education' and 'school-based management'. Many of us in this profession would like to know when it will put its money where its mouth is?


Sham Shui Po

Class size just one aspect of good education

Michael Fullan ('Expert backs call for smaller classes', Education Post, March 24), said it all: 'It's politically effective in the sense that parents will intuitively say: 'My child will get more attention',' with regards to smaller classes. He also mentioned that 'the brightest graduates' need to be attracted to education. I would like to say that a very bright person doesn't mean a good teacher. Again, you'd be looking at academics for potential teachers.

Classes can go as small as you like, but as long as the current system and attitude is in place, class sizes won't matter. Too much emphasis on academic standards and getting certificates still has most teachers/schools training students to sit exams instead of providing them with an education.

What needs to be done is a combination of smaller classes, fewer exams and a change to education instead of 'exam training'.

In the same issue on Page 3, the ESF states that 'an unexpected drop in revenues translates into poorer services'. Does that mean that unexpected expenses/costs will translate into poorer services too?

I have no argument with the deposit issue but please don't make it look like as if a 6 per cent drop in students is going to make such a big impact on quality. If that is the case, ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay better have another look at the way the foundation puts its budgets together.


Tai Po

ESF bullies ignore struggling parents

The English Schools Foundation has revealed its latest bullying tactics ('ESF clamps down on summer exodus', Education Post, March 24).

Many thanks to Heather Du Quesnay and Chris Forse for a new stab in the back, as usual introduced without agreement from the parents. Many hard-working families who struggle to pay the high fees may be forced to forfeit their summer holidays in order to deposit their hard-earned money in the ESF's fat bank account in advance.

Ms Du Quesnay states that 170 students lost over summer is a 'huge loss'. Nonsense. With 12,000 students, that represents 1.4 per cent. There are two disturbing points to mention:

Many families survive on large education subsidies from their companies, paid at the start of each term. Companies will not bring forward the subsidies to June, causing hardship.

The ESF obviously presumes fewer empty seats will mean more fees and therefore more income. Will the school fees be reduced then? Will parents see the interest from the extra $75 million that will sit in the ESF's bank account all summer?

Parents should be given the financial facts to choose whether to maintain the current fee schedule or pay September's fees in advance and receive a discount.


Pedants unwelcome when push comes to pull

In response to Anson Yang's ('Even exams authority cannot get it right', Education Post, March 24) criticism of errors in the practice exam papers issued by the HKEA, there may well have been some, but the one she feels so strongly about in her letter certainly is not.

An instruction such as 'Do not take away' is perfectly correct, as the object is understood to be the thing that the instruction is written on. Dr Yang's suggestion of 'Do not take it away' would have us wondering what 'it' is. What is written on a door is 'Push' or 'Pull', not 'Push it' or 'Pull it', and there are many other examples like this. Common usage is often a better indicator of 'correct' English than pedantic adherence to grammatical theory.



Don't get carried away, Dr Yang

I found Dr Anson Yang's letter criticising the exams authority for using the phrase 'Do not take away' and suggesting reverting to the previous instruction 'Do not take it away' remarkably amusing, as any native English speaker would know from countless school, railway and government office visits the correct phrase is 'Not to be taken away' not infrequently underlined and printed in red.


Sheung Wan

Exam authority gets 'it' right

The exam authority is perfectly correct in writing 'Do not take away' on papers. This is a matter of formal language.

'Not to be taken away' or 'Do not take away' written on a document itself clearly refers to the item in question. The inclusion of 'it' renders the command ambiguous, since 'it' may refer to any number of things. Official language (especially in the imperative) is unambiguous and succinct.

Any number of similar examples may be found, especially on the roads, for example, 'Do not park here' or 'No parking' clearly refers to a vehicle driven by a driver at whom the command is targeted.

To say 'Do not park 'it' here' or even 'Do not park your car here' may be misinterpreted to refer to a particular car or vehicle rather than the car actually being driven, which covers all cases of illegal parking.

In a similar way, the imperative 'Do not remove' or in this case, 'Do not take away' refers only to the paper upon which the command is written and is thus unambiguous.

In any case, in this type of imperative, which omits any direct object as a grammatical necessity, using the object pronoun 'it' would be grammatically and stylistically incorrect.

The only acceptable alternative would be 'Do not take away this exam paper', which is redundant and more open to misinterpretation than the simple imperative 'Do not remove' affixed to any portable property, or printed on a paper itself that is not to be removed.

Other examples are Keep upright, Return to sender, Keep out of the reach of children, Do not drink, Do not enter. In none is it necessary (or indeed correct) to use 'it' or 'here' to refer to the object or place referred to. This is because the notice appears on the object or place referred to, a standard practice and that is, per se, correct grammatically.

M. Irwin-Evans,