• Sun
  • Dec 21, 2014
  • Updated: 1:41am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong educators must focus on teaching critical thinking skills

Alan Wong says helping students develop their skills in critical analysis is far more important than cramming them full of textbook knowledge

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 April, 2014, 2:23am

The chief executive's policy address has made education a key area in Hong Kong and has proposed giving students a lot more financial support. But will it really solve the long-discussed educational problem in the city?

It is not news any more that Hong Kong secondary school graduates have low levels of Chinese and English skills. Mathematics teachers and even engineering and computer science professors at local universities are now starting to complain about the decline in numeracy standards. The exam-based curriculum here has long been notorious for stifling students' creativity and independent thinking.

As a Form Three student, I believe this issue is highly relevant, and I have first-hand knowledge of it.

I do not criticise the government for taking measures to support students financially, as they aim to ensure that no student will be denied the opportunities to pursue high-quality education. However, none of these measures will actually raise the quality of teachers; none of them fosters critical thinking or learning outside the classroom; none of them reaches into the roots of the educational problem.

Some commentators have suggested reducing class size so teachers can devote more attention to students and foster interaction in class. Schools such as mine have been slowly reducing the class size from 30 to 25 or fewer. Despite all the effort, this is a superficial change. Whether for a class of 25 students or 40, teachers tend to take the same approach: lecturing and occasionally asking and answering questions. Reducing class sizes alone will not change teachers' teaching habits.

If we are to add elements of the Western-style discussion-based education into our curriculum, teachers need to be re-educated to understand that helping students develop critical thinking skills and learn to judge and analyse is more important than cramming them full of textbook knowledge.

Teachers have to be transformed from lecturers into facilitators of discussions; they have to put aside preconceptions about teaching they have been holding onto for years and accept the new teaching methods.

Interest groups have also urged the government to remodel the curriculum to allow for more independent thinking from students. I expect that this is why the government made liberal studies a compulsory subject in senior forms of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exams.

Again, we see an insignificant change. Indeed, liberal studies trains thinking skills, but an hour of lessons each week is insufficient.

What we need is a total change in the approach of teaching, from knowledge- and fact-based to explanation- and opinion-based. This should be applied to all subjects, not just liberal studies. Simply adding a subject to the curriculum is not enough.

The path of comprehensive reform will be long, but necessary. The government has only presented to us superficial ways to deal with the problem. Not only do teachers need to be experts in the subjects they teach, they also have to change the way they teach. The Education Bureau has to modify school exams to make critical thinking a necessary part of education.

Alan Wong is a Form Three student from St Paul's Co-educational College

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This article is now closed to comments

L.L.
I love u mr. Eddie Ng Hak-kim, staatssecretaris voor Onderwijs... GOOD TALK!!! ... Finally have someone a Brain!!! (((Alan Wong says helpingstudents develop their skills in critical analysis is far more important than cramming them full of textbook knowledge)))
((( westerse stijl-discussie onderwijs in ons curriculum toe te voegen, moeten leraren worden heropgevoed om te begrijpen dat het helpen van studenten te ontwikkelen vaardigheden in kritisch denken en leren om te oordelen en te analyseren is belangrijker dan proppen ze vol leerboek kennis.)))
((( totale verandering in de benadering van het onderwijs, van de kennis-en fact-based om uitleg-en-advies gebaseerd is))) ...
I HAVE NO MORE WORDS FOR... HE IS GOOD IN MIND, THINKING, TALKING, USING... POSITIVE ACT... take this sample of him, HK-people, instead always complain, prejudices, negative word, building a problem, blame someone, or seeking a victim... But not seeking for SOLUTION!!! ... Finally someone say somethings good... HIHIHI... I LOVE IT... keep on this way... HK-people... (Y) (Y) (Y) ... freedom of speech...
gunzy
A very well written article, and by a form 3 student no less, gives me some hope for the future of HK.
.
A question tho, is critical thinking a "taught" skill, or a nurtured skill?
joyalsofi
Along with many vaild points, I would like to point out two important ideas that should be taken into consideration. "Teachers have to be transformed from lecturers into facilitators of discussions; they have to put aside preconceptions about teaching they have been holding onto for years and accept the new teaching methods."
I agree, but caution that it is not just teachers who have to adjust to new classroom methods and the requirements that accompany them, so do the students. If a discussion forum is envisaged but the students are still clinging to outmoded expectations, the teacher will face silence at best, leading the teacher back into lecture mode, or hostility from the students who feel they aren't getting 'an education.'
Another crucial aspect of education in Hong Kong that is missing from this thoughtful student's critique is the failure of the government to set standards so that all schools are at a high level and no students have schools that are inferior. The very concept of Band 1, 2 and 3 schools is a disgrace.
johnyuan
Schools fail students nowadays. Together with kindergarten, a Form Six students spend 15 years ‘learning’. With the advance of earlier education and exposure to computer assisted learning OUTSIDE of classroom, we are forcing students to attend classes just as long. I suspect most students are bored to death sitting in their classroom in so call learning the ‘basics’.
.
Educators must revalue the traditional curriculum and advance it with the time especially reduces the amount of time needed to teach the basics. Let the human mind to be developed to the fullest.
johnyuan
Here my experience is that math courses shouldn’t go beyond arithmetic – add, subtract, minus, multiply and divide. Get them done by Primary three. Learn calculus and trigonometry or what have you as electives after the basics are done. Grammar rule should be mastered as early as possible if English is learned as second language. Rest of the time in school should be spent on using English as a learning tool (writing, conversation and play acting etc) so to understand English more.
ykbc
Critical thinking skills are important of course, but no one can think critically if their heads are empty. Professionals - engineers, lawyers, journalists, you name it - all have to spend a lot of time mastering basic knowledge. There is no short cut really.
johnyuan
Right on. The education system is a cookie cutter that overlooks student’s individuality. It is a low budget and mass education system that classes are big, teacher teaches, students learn and examinations test. I want to see Hong Kong people to realize its limitation that Hong Kong with its economic strength should break out for a better system.
.
As a starter, government’s increase in education budget is right and ulmost necessary. What follows should be immediately spend it in retraining current teachers and reprogram Teacher University for training future teachers for interactive teaching in small classes. Lastly, think about an alternative testing method to the current examination.
.
The sequence for the steps to reform Hong Kong education is critical. Without these steps, money would be just wasted because students are still stuck with rote teaching teachers and rote learning students even the class size has down to 25 or less.
.
Cookie cutter makes perfect similar cookies only.
L.L.
Distinguishes 7types of people you should try to keep from your neighborhood: LEARN!
1.Negative Ling:If this person has ever cheerful, that is under the influence. But otherwise it's ever complain and whine. If it can throughout the day and almost looking for what is not good.
2.The Downer:You can also call him the worrier. In every idea he sees risks and drawbacks, so he, if you give him a chance, the mood of the group gets down with his tubs.
3.The Judge:In the presence of the Judge may find yourself not because he controls every tiny detail of your choice of words and behavior to make then his judgment to pronounce.The court finds everything and let him know constantly.
4.The Borrower:This person takes, and never will take is itself contributing to the relationship. It's always about him and if you start to tell something about yourself is what it is all about him again very soon. Always looking for his own benefit, never gives home if you need anything.
5.The Manipulator:Manipulators managed to put. every situation to their They have only one priority in their lives and that they are themselves.
6.The Misgunner:Misgunner The grants you no successes and is happy when you're going bad. He hopes that you and loser are not and that you succeed.
7.The Irreconcilable:You do, in a friendship, always something wrong. In friendship also means that you uitpraat and then forgive each other.Some people can not give forgiveness...
LEARN!...Freedom of speech...

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