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National education in Hong Kong

Hong Kong education boss failed to make the grade

His handling of a school assessment exam came to define his unpopularity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 9:32am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 June, 2017, 9:32am

If numbers are revealing, the approval ratings for Hong Kong’s outgoing education minister say plenty.

Except for when he first took office in July 2012, Eddie Ng Hak-kim has consistently been on the wrong side of zero. And his bumpy ride began when he took office.

The government was planning to implement in public schools a compulsory national education course with materials by a Beijing loyalist critics deemed biased.

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At the start of the school term in September 2012, over 30,000 angry Hongkongers took to the streets in what became a 10-day protest culminating in a sit-in at government headquarters.

Officials later shelved the plan, and many blamed Ng for pushing it, with some accusing him of incompetence. The former chairman of the Examinations and Assessment Authority had spent most of his professional life in human resources.

Three years on, he faced another stiff challenge: the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA).

The TSA was originally designed to give officials data to review policies and equip schools with information about pupils’ academic competencies. But it became synonymous with stressful drilling exercises.

Officials opted to continue the test this year, despite growing calls by parents and educators for it to be scrapped, coupled with a spate of student suicides in recent years.

The government said a trial for a simplified format last year had eliminated the incentive to drill. But critics disagreed, saying the practice was still rampant.

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As if to compound growing anger, Ng skipped part of a public hearing on the test in May to attend an event marking the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule with a pro-Beijing business group.

His handling of TSA came to define his shortcomings as education secretary.

During his 2012 campaign, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying promised 15 years of free public education. But this year, only about 80 per cent of half-day kindergartens were found able to waive school fees. All whole-day kindergartens still charge fees.

Ng was so beleaguered that in January former lawmaker Lam Tai-fai offered to pay him six months of salary if he would quit.