Cardinal is wrong about school reform

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 September, 2011, 12:00am


Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has accused the government of trying to brainwash students with its proposed mandatory national education.

There are indeed deep flaws in the government's plan, and the recently completed public consultation did little to ease doubts. Chief among these is why we need a separate subject like national education at all when students already have history, social science and liberal studies. But the cardinal, with his highly politicised views, is not the most convincing opponent.

Zen is trying to tie his opposition to the national education plan - an opposition that is not entirely unreasonable - with his uncompromising stance against a plan by the government to reform school boards. The cardinal claims the school board reform would weaken the autonomy of schools in running their affairs, making it easier for officials to propagandise in the classroom.

But the aim of the school board reform is to allow more parents, teachers and community representatives to become board members at schools. This will make schools more accountable, not less. School boards that are more representative, democratic and open would be in a better position to resist the introduction of dodgy teaching material into the classroom, not worse.

But the church, under Zen's leadership, is fighting it tooth and nail. Having lost two rounds in court, it is taking the case to the Court of Final Appeal. Under the guise of preserving school autonomy, Zen, a self-styled democrat, is fighting much-needed democratic reform in school boards.

It is far easier for the government to manipulate schools when their boards are unaccountable and function like old boys' networks.