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  • Apr 18, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Broaden Hong Kong education for more well-rounded students

Kai-Lung Hui says 'too much, too fast' approach can kill curiosity to learn

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 9:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 December, 2013, 2:28am

Universities in Hong Kong are reportedly admitting a significant number of local students who do not take the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination. These students, who take the International Baccalaureate diploma or General Certificate of Examination syllabus instead, mostly study in international schools. Many come from upper-middle-class families.

Why would the universities want to admit more of these students? Some admission officers say they are of equal or better quality than students in the HKDSE system.

In fact, many people have raised concerns about local schooling, which emphasises rote learning and spoon-feeds students with difficult words and concepts beyond what they are supposed to learn at their age.

I have seen words such as "astronaut" in local kindergarten textbooks. An admission interview has become the norm before children enter primary or secondary school in Hong Kong. Some interviewers even ask whether the applicants have comments on the chief executive's policy address or the European financial crisis. We are talking about children of 11 and 12, or even younger.

To prepare for these interviews, some parents send their children to multiple workshops and give them loads of reading and homework. Some even force their kids to read textbooks and do exercises for subjects one or several years ahead of time. Going to tutorial schools has become an indispensable part of many a child's education here. Such intensive training puts extra pressure on students and could dampen their curiosity for learning.

In fact, the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings show that Hong Kong students are only marginally better than their counterparts in Finland in terms of science and reading ability, yet Finnish students do not start school until seven, have minimal homework, and are strongly encouraged to undertake extra-curricular activities. The same goes for the education systems in many other countries.

More importantly, many administrators in local universities have lost faith in the rote learning culture in Hong Kong. They prefer to choose students who have studied other curriculums because they give the students more flexibility to pursue other activities.

However, we should remember that the HKDSE students are the victims - they sacrifice much of their youth, often not at their own will, to study for a qualification that is not well received by others.

We cannot blame the universities for welcoming non-HKDSE students. After all, it is meritocracy at play. What we urgently need is to rebuild confidence in the local education system. The recent education reform is a good initiative to steer students away from rote learning and emphasise all-round education. However, to serve its purpose, we need a stronger focus on breadth rather than depth of knowledge.

Instead of training students to excel in reciting difficult English words or memorising advanced formulae for differential calculus, parents and especially teachers should give students more time to understand and apply the subjects, and read more widely. The assessment should emphasise application, not memorisation.

Being able to spell "astronaut" in kindergarten or know something about socio-economic issues at primary school won't make a child any better than other children. All educators, including parents and teachers, should remember that the purpose of education is to help a person learn and grow, not compete with others.

Kai-Lung Hui is an associate dean of undergraduate programmes and a professor of information systems at the School of Business and Management, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are his own

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lance.johnson.5074
Being an international student isn’t easy, given our complex culture and language. Assistance must come from various sources. A new award-winning worldwide book/ebook to help anyone coming to the US is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those who will benefit from a better understanding, including international students. Endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they contributed to our society, including students.
A chapter on education identifies schools that are free and explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a new culture, friendship process and classroom differences they will encounter. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work for an American firm here or overseas. It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.
Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, fellow students, and books like this to
johnyuan
Professor H u i is right to point out that much what we ask of children to learn is above their age to understand and I even would also add beyond what most of them for any use in their future. Rote learning with additional tutorial help for the skill for test taking is what most of us had experienced and continuously forcing our children to follow. Both the officials and parents are at fault. Professor H u i seems to be working within the system to bring some changes. I hope the exam oriented education will be understood that it creates very little value.
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Without slighting in any way of this article which is a courageous act by a local educator in being critical of Hong Kong education system for its children that I would reprint here my yesterday’s comments from elsewhere.
johnyuan
The findings of genetic makeup collates with scholastic aptitude makes me both nerves and at peace with myself. Most of all, I will say how little we know about human. I am nerves because scientists are breaking a taboo by confronting and concluding that school performance is gene related which is short to further advance to find out it is race related too. May be not all race possesses same predominant set of genes.
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I am at peace and hope the research result is validly confirmable that my poor performance in math throughout my schooling, in my case it wasn’t due to laziness or even stupidity as I would argue now – I only lack certain gene(s). I am, even polling within the same race, a poor performer in math. But I know my strength lies elsewhere. Again if the research is correct, I should attribute not only to my invested effort but the possession of certain genes in me. But obviously, I can’t rule out those particular genes have reinforced my efforts positively.
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johnyuan
For the timely report of the research, connecting-the-dots seems inevitable to me. Are Asians good in test-taking because of test-taking genes in Asians? If it is so, the genes aren’t that useful beyond test-taking. I would venture to ask PISA to reevaluate its purpose in finding who can take test better if it is a meaningful and constructive thing to do in education? And for the official educators in Hong Kong, they may too not to fall into false accolade of their policy for the innate accomplishment by the test takers in PISA year after year.
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I will not be shocked of ourselves as more revelations about us become available. God is smiling too I hope.
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