• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 6:42pm
PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 2:47am

Stamp out the elitism in Hong Kong education

Alice Wu says Hong Kong's education system has become a modern-day monster, warped by an obsession with talent and privilege

We who live in this city certainly didn't need the World Economic Forum to tell us we are competitive. Sure, being placed a few spots lower in the rankings than our supposedly biggest rival, Singapore, may get our adrenaline going, but if someone were to do a ranking of preschoolers, my bet is that we would be in the top five.

My mum didn't have to put together an educational portfolio for me when I was young. I had enough homework, but not enough to cut into my TV and play time. I took piano and swimming lessons, and also ballet. None of these made it to my portfolio, because I didn't have one; in those days, four-year-olds weren't expected to have a curriculum vitae.

But the world has changed. I've been told by family and friends who are raising children that playing the piano no longer counts as a skill, extracurricular activity or interest. According to them, it is now treated as some sort of basic motor skill.

After so much talk about tiger mums and cubs, this surely is a new breed of Übermensch.

Our education system has morphed into one best described as elitism on crack. It determines a child's future by the age of four, since the rules of the game dictate that, in order to get into a good university, one is required to have come from an elite secondary school, which requires that one has attended an elite primary school; and the prerequisite for an elite primary education is attendance at an elite kindergarten, which in turn requires graduation from a preschool for the extraordinary.

We have a system that requires children to jump through hoops of fire, demonstrate extraordinary talent and compete in a cutthroat recruitment process. Only a modern-day Frankenstein could have created this monster.

It's not just the late bloomers who are at a disadvantage in such a system. Children of single-parent families, and those of the underprivileged and the less resourceful will also be left behind. Whatever happened to nurturing the young in a safe, healthy environment that supports whole-person development?

We have somehow shifted our goal of providing students with a well-rounded education to one of creating a round-hole-only education system that keeps the square (and other odd-shaped) pegs out. If we believe education offers people a way out of poverty, then we must rethink whether our education system is playing the right role.

With the poverty line due to be defined in the coming months, children's access to education and opportunities must also be taken into consideration. And if we continue to adhere to this philosophy of forcing children of all shapes and sizes to be round pegs, then we can only expect to slip further down in the rankings for innovation.

When we are ready to trade our students' sleep deprivation for their right to dream; when we are willing to educate all, not just those whose families can afford interest classes, tutors and exam prep courses, then, and only then, can we ensure we are equipping our future generations with the power to compete for years to come.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA


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This article is now closed to comments

The issue isn't so much about elitism in education but more of education inflation in being able to obtain work and/or move up the career/job ladder.
Elitism in education is present in just about every country in the world. The concept of being able to attend school was very elitist in origin to begin with. How can a child from a family of peasants have time to learn (even to just learn to read and write) when he/she has to go to toil in the field?
Education inflation also isn't exclusive to HK. Four to five decades ago, one could get a job at a bank with nothing more than the equivalent of a secondary school education. That is just one example. There are many jobs that used to require little or no formal education that now require even some form of tertiary education; and some job positions and promotions that used to require a university bachelor's degree now require a master's degree.
pierce lam... you advocate the elimination of teaching english to our children? its pretty apparent you have neither children nor a successful career of any sort. english is mandatory for success in hong kong. its a fact that you can't wish away with your racism. one again, i am sorry your boyfriend left you for a better endowed white man, but please don't let our children suffer the same fate as you - irrelevant, bitter and useless. thanks.
another irrelevant fool... whymak, i told you once, and i will tell you again - shut the f-ck up you racist irrelevant f-ck.
Well said

To bluefirestorm,
the above will give you a perspective the relationship between school and job in US. Remember, AW is not talking about that. May be she will in another article in the future.
pls tell me what you have accomplished in your life? you are clearly pretty old - 55 or so? pls enlighten us on your achievements as a human being.
Well said, Alice!
Point missed. The issue is not about job and education in AW's article. The issue is education system that provides no level playing field for all.
Then what is the point of going through the education system other than for better job/career prospects?
Why do you think these tiger mums target for their kids to get to the best university? Why not stop at the best primary school or best secondary school?
I doubt if these tiger mums would be happy if their kids grow up to pursue a university degree that is deemed useless to getting a decent paying job (let's say a degree in music). Nor would they have the goal of a good university so that their child will one day find the cure for cancer.
It is the education inflation for the "best jobs" that fuel such planning by these tiger mums.
For those with less resources, the education inflation either stops them or makes it for more difficult to break out of their trap. If one doesn't have the time and money to pursue a university education, he/she may be stuck temporarily/permanently to a low paying job.




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