Education Mailbag

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 May, 2007, 12:00am

International context reveals the reality of shortcomings

The front page story 'Boost university places' call (Education Post, May 5) needs to be set in an international context. Hong Kong's 14,500 first-year, first-degree places each year provide entry for 18 per cent of its young people compared with the OECD average for 2004 of 53 per cent.

Hong Kong is lower than any OECD economy, even Turkey (26 per cent) and Mexico (29 per cent). It is only when we count sub-degree programmes, vocational training and overseas university programmes that Hong Kong gets to 66 per cent.

Associate degree programmes will continue to stimulate demand for additional university places. Nearly all Hong Kong students who complete an associate degree will want to convert to a degree. The experience from Singapore is that 70 per cent of polytechnic diploma holders convert to a degree within five years. This creates issues of double dipping into student financial support and, potentially, the crowding out of school leavers.

But the focus for the next few years will be on increasing the capacities of universities by about a third to cater for the increase from three to four-year undergraduate degrees. Part of this capacity increase will go towards educating the double cohort that completes school in the middle of 2012, resulting in 29,000 students, not 14,500 students, entering first-year, first-degree programmes in 2012.

In terms of entry to education, 2007 is effectively a dragon year. Students born in the dragon year 1988 have turned 18 and there are 93,300 18-year-olds in Hong Kong - 14,500 first-year, first-degree places provide access to university for 16 per cent, not 18 per cent, of this cohort. By 2020, the number of 18-year-olds will be 44,000 and 14,500 first-year, first-degree places will provide access to university for 33 per cent of the cohort, still way below the 2004 OECD average of 53 per cent.


Director, Strategy Policy and Research in Education Limited

NETs campaign more than malcontents

Peter Reed's letter, 'Malcontents fail to reflect majority' (Education Post, May 5) was an ignominious attempt to discredit our efforts in staving off a retention and recruitment crisis in the NET scheme.

His conclusion that the some 600 NETs who haven't signed the petition disagree with it is a quantum leap. Only when all NETs have been given a chance to read and sign the petition, can we say a certain number have refused. We have not, and never will, badger our colleagues to sign. There have never been veiled 'you're either with us or against us' remarks.

Mr Reed said we were 'unelected by and unrepresentative of any group of NET teachers in HK'. Mr Reed, neither having ever been a member of the Native English-Speaking Teachers' Association (Nesta), nor apparently having ever attended a Nesta meeting, will be unaware of the fact that, in the general meeting of February 2006, a resolution was passed supporting both Lee and myself in our campaign to seek compensation for those NETs who signed contracts in 2004.

The four short points of the petition aim to solve the problems many of the education deputations raised before the Legco Panel of Education at the April 16 Review of the NET Scheme.

Rather than 'a ragbag of complaints,' or a 'shotgun at the head for more cash', as Mr Reed puts it, we, and at present, some 220 other NETs, see the advantage to the scheme of addressing the issues that were raised and as a solution to a very real and present crisis.


NET, Po Leung Kuk Wai Yin College

Leaving promoted by more than greed

NETs have been accused of being greedy. I would like to show just how misguided this statement is. The letter by Angela Jackson (Education Post, April28) is about a 4.5 per cent loss in pay incurred by many of the 2004 NETs because of differences in the housing allowance in contracts signed by NETs. Contracts are clear and simple matters, but the conditions in which contracts are made - the cultural environment in which they are signed - can make contracts a rather confusing issue.

There is a litany of issues that the EMB refuses to address. As a NET who arrived in 1998, I found the wording of the contracts agreeable. However, with each successive new contract, the wording became more draconian and punitive.

For example, introduced in later contracts was the wording that the gratuity could be refused if the principal thought the NET was not fulfilling his duties. The tone of the contracts was no longer one of parity.

NETs encounter all kinds of problems at their schools but the EMB turns a deaf ear. Even for domestic helpers, there is a system in place if they are being mistreated.

I seemed to be less than a domestic helper to the EMB even though I was hired for my professional services. There was a yearly exodus for many years of 40 per cent or more teachers as well which surely indicates a problem but the EMB simply stuck its head in the sand.

The EMB's indifference to NETs was really highlighted when my children became of school age. At my school in Kwai Chung, most parents of my students did not pay income tax but the students are entitled to free education in their own language. I, on the other hand, did pay income tax. Two months of my savings on average went to the government but my children did not have the right to enjoy education at an English school.

I found it ironic that my tax dollars were paying for my students' education. The HK$20,000 tax deduction for each of my two children would barely pay for two months of education at an ESF school and I find that a terrible injustice.

That one should pay so much tax and not have those tax dollars represent you in any way is inconceivable for me.

I have chosen to leave the NET scheme and not for new career opportunities as Mr Warlaw would have it.



Drawing the lines for language success

Hong Kong Examination And Assessment Authority has long been renowned for its efficiency and fairness for judging students' ability. But, this year Section E of the Use of English subject was a great disappointment.

This year, the format of the section E paper was almost the same as last year. Both papers require students to write a 500-word essay. But marking the paper this year compared with last year was by no means the same. This 'sudden change' is simply unfair to the majority of the candidates. This year, all words beyond the limit would not be marked and the marks of the word limits and readability will also be deducted too.

According to the past paper, only two marks would be deducted if a candidate failed to write within 500 words. Such change will make a big difference in this paper as it doubly penalises those who exceed the 500-word limit and this will also sharply affect the overall result of the UE paper too as it is weighted 28 per cent of the whole paper.

HKEAA was inconsistent with the previous year's marking scheme and didn't specify such consequence of exceeding the word limit in the examination and doubly penalised those who exceeded the word limit.

The design of this paper is clearly deceiving and misleading. In last year's paper, only 75 lines were allowed for a candidate to write his 500-word essay against this year's 90 lines. If HKEAA really wants students to write within the word limit, why deliberately increase the number of lines? The Advanced Level Examination is a crucial stepping stone for the entrance into undergraduate studies.


Tin Shui Wai