Education reforms must set bar higher for tutors

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 August, 2009, 12:00am

If students learn by rote and memorisation, they may lack the analytical, communication and creative abilities needed to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Hopefully such outdated teaching and learning practices will eventually become a thing of the past under Hong Kong's education reforms, with more emphasis placed on critical-thinking skills. But old habits die hard. Evidence of that can be found in our report today on the city's booming private tutorial business. Parents are paying tutors thousands of dollars a month for extra lessons in the belief that they will improve academic performance. That means coaching students for exams, which does little to discourage rote learning.

Parents themselves were responsible in the first place for this situation, in their anxiety to ensure that their children got good grades. It has become an education 'fashion' market, with celebrity tutors who are paid multiples of what the highest paid secondary teacher can earn, promotional gimmicks and cash rewards for star students. So trendy has it become to go to a tutor that it is often students rather than parents who choose them.

There is nothing wrong with a vibrant private-tutor sector, so long as it is not a symptom of something seriously amiss with the education system. Parents have a right to decide what is in the best interests of their children. External examinations are, after all, a make-or-break career benchmark. What sets Hong Kong's cram schools apart is the gimmicky commercialism, the fierce competition among tutors for students and the lucrative fees they command. The emphasis tends to be on quantity rather than quality. Ironically, education reforms are seen as likely to boost demand for private tutors, with uncertainties over the new secondary curriculum and a big increase in the number of senior secondary students. It is important that the reforms succeed in discouraging rote learning and banishing outdated teaching and learning practices. This will not only produce more rounded students, it will also set the bar higher for tutors who cash in on parents' desire to do the best for their children - and perhaps enhance the educational value of their contribution.