Practical course for the minority
AT present, students who are relatively unmotivated by mainstream education are not being fully served with specially-planned programmes. Only a small number (around 300) are able to continue their education in the Hong Kong Sea School following a more skill-oriented curriculum and those who cannot be placed may become dropouts and even delinquents.
The Education Commission has considered making special provisions in its Report No. 4 for youngsters who are unable to catch up on a normal academic course and who refuse schooling under the nine years free and compulsory education.
It has recommended that, apart from the Hong Kong Sea School, three more practical schools be set up to provide a diversified curriculum comprising academic and practical subjects.
This curriculum is to have a 50 per cent component in academic subjects, 45 per cent in non-academic subjects and the remaining five per cent in cross-curricular learning activities.
The range of academic subjects offered includes Chinese, English, mathematics, integrated science and social studies. Meanwhile, the technical/practical subjects will include the options of general mechanical study, general electrical studies, catering services, commercial studies, hairstyling, fashion and possibly some others pending the phased development of these schools up to 1997-98.
These special purpose schools are full-time establishments for Form 1 to 3 study. There are five classes in each form with 30 (as opposed to 40 currently in a conventional school) pupils in each class. The total enrolment for each practical school is 450 pupils, looked after by a school-based social worker.
The provision of practical schools is worthy of support because they provide a structured environment where pupils failing the conventional core curriculum could have a higher incentive to learn. Increased investment for students lagging behind at this stage is likely to save a lot of remedial services in the future.
To resolve the problems faced by the misfits under the grammar school curriculum, the practical institutes must not only meet the short-term needs of schools and teachers, otherwise, one problem solved may lead to others in future.
It should be remembered that students do not opt for practical schools on the basis of their pre-identified skills but through their failure to cope with mainstream education. More practical and technical subjects in keeping with the learning aptitude of the student body and the needs of the community ought to be identified and offered. Facilities, though for training, must not be those that are falling out of use in the world of work. Skills imparted to students in these places must be at odds with the expectations of the wider society.
AN encouraging beginning has been offered by the Hong Kong Sea School from which over 90 per cent of the first batch of 35 Form 3 graduates last year have been successfully placed for further study. This, however, should be judged in the context of the relatively small number of school leavers involved.
To enhance its marketability, the course offered at the practical schools must never be viewed as an end in itself. The curriculum, while providing students with basic and interesting skills in some trades, should equip those who have subsequently resumed interest in academic work with an academic preparation that is instrumental to further education.
It is doubtful if teachers and textbooks for the adjusted curriculum at practical schools will be fully available on the open market. The Government must, therefore, be ready to deploy resources and handle the needs flexibly.
According to government projections, there are only 1,800 Form 1 to 3 students who are unmotivated and thus need this kind of service. How unrealistic. Are there only, on average, just one to two pupils per school who have related learning, emotional and behavioural problems.
Last but not least, the Government must not take it for granted that parents and other members of the community will automatically endorse this modified curriculum. Substantial public selling is needed to bring practical schools into acceptance as a viable alternative education that will not cost the chance of a bright educational and career future for those who go for it.