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