Critics have blamed the standard of school teachers for pushing thousands of students into private tutorial classes. If we had better teachers, they say, these private schools would not flourish. This is a dangerous assumption: that private tutors are better educators than school teachers. Is it true? The police crackdown on one of Hong Kong's most popular tuition school chains last week indirectly exposed fallacies related to the so-called high standards of private tutors. Seen by the students as a superstar tutor, and with English language as his best subject, 'Sze Sir' runs the tutorial school involved in last week's crackdown. Because of his popularity, he charges students the highest rate, $650 a month, and is said to have more than 4,000 pupils. He was asked by the English-speaking media to explain the reasons for failing to register his school promptly. 'I hope when we buy a flat, we can have lawyer to assist us,' he said. 'If we can have such consultant company or such consultants to help us to do this registration, I think we can do it well,' (sic). The media were quick to detect the obvious grammatical errors 'Sze Sir' had made, though he is the man admired by thousands of students for his English skills. So what is the secret to his getting so many students through public examinations? The answer is simple: he owes his success to Hong Kong's education system, an examination-driven system. Most tuition schools spend a lot of time teaching students examination techniques - how to answer questions to get good grades. Students practise past examination papers in class and are offered model answers to memorise. This mechanical approach is effective for some students, but its fundamental flaw is its inability to measure students' true academic standards. However, some examination assessors say they have come across English and Chinese compositions that show good grammar and structure though the content is not relevant to the topic. As the scoring system allocates only a portion of the marks to content, that means even though a student may not exactly understand what a composition topic asks for, he can still pass or even get a high grade. Other problems arise in different exam papers. In essay-type questions, the system requires the assessors to give scores as long as 'key words' are contained in the answers - even if the sentences are incomprehensible. From an educational point of view, this is appalling. Are we really educating our younger generation and imparting the knowledge they need? Or are we doing no more than turning them into examination machines? Certainly, there are teachers who are not up to standard. But many private tutors are no better substitutes when it comes to educating our youngsters. The overwhelming popularity of tuition schools is alarming because if students and parents believe that they get better value from private tutorials, they are challenging the basic ideal of education. Education would then become simply the pursuit of good grades which would give students a better chance to get a university place and in turn make them more competitive when trying to gain a well-paid job. Depth of knowledge and academic excellence would become secondary. The anomaly in our education scene is not conducive to upgrading our students and our future workforce. The problem has to be rectified and an overhaul of the examination system is badly needed.