Hong Kong's education system is too academic and examination-oriented and requires a radical overhaul, says the new Director of Education, Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fan. She said the teaching profession had been a victim of Hong Kong's economic prosperity as the best graduates opted for better-paid jobs in the finance and business sectors, and was not held in high regard by the community. Mrs Law, who was giving an interview to mark the South China Morning Post 's 95th anniversary, said: 'In my days, students looked up to their teachers as figures of authority and many aspired to become teachers themselves. I wonder how many graduates these days aspire to become teachers or whether they regard teaching as a job of last resort.' The new education chief draws a link between the changed attitudes to teaching and the declining standards of education, particularly on the language front. 'If teachers themselves cannot speak fluent English, how can you expect the students to be fluent? Even teachers who teach Chinese these days are not as proficient in the language as those teachers we had who were graduates from China,' she said. An overloaded school curriculum further compounded the situation as overburdened teachers ended up with little time or incentive to encourage inquiring minds. 'I find our present education system too academic and examination-orientated. We put too much into our curriculum, starting from primary school. This is the time when children build up character and develop the foundations of communication and language,' Mrs Law said. 'Instead of just imparting knowledge, we should be teaching our children to be enthused about acquiring knowledge, to enjoy the experience of learning and to train their minds to be critical and analytical. 'Education is a life-long process, especially as we are now living in a time of information explosion. Learning is just not limited to the classroom; therefore our school system should help students to develop an attitude and aptitude for life-long learning. 'We should encourage self-discovery by directing students to sources of information rather than just have them passively absorbing what the teachers say.' In response to calls for changes in the system, the Education Commission was set up last year to review the overall aims of Hong Kong's education system, its academic structure and curriculum as well as the examination system. The findings of the commission will be presented to the public early next year. Language constitutes an important part of this exercise, particularly in the wake of the recent implementation of mother- tongue teaching. Mrs Law said that, during the next three years, the commission would be closely monitoring feedback from teachers, parents and students. 'From the purely educational point of view, teaching in native tongue allows students to understand and appreciate the lessons better. It also allows the students to express themselves more readily. This must be good for learning. 'But there is a small body of students who can manage effectively in two languages. We have to cater for these students, hence the 114 EMI (English as the medium of instruction) schools.' Mrs Law said there was no perfect system. 'Even among academics and educators, there is no common consensus. Some academics have proposed using English text and Chinese teaching. Others have suggested teaching certain subjects in English and some subjects in Chinese,' she said. 'At this point, we are keeping an open mind. The reality is that we cannot go against public opinion. Ultimately, it is the community's preference on how they would like to allocate resources and how they want their children to be trained. We will be measuring results and consulting the community widely before taking the next step.' On the possibility of a social division between students of EMI and CMI schools, Mrs Law said: 'There was, unfortunately, a labelling effect once we had to draw a line on the basis of language proficiency. But people have to realise that students who are not proficient in English may excel in subjects such as mathematics or science. 'Ultimately, whether one is regarded as successful depends on the kind of job you get. The world is fast changing - there are more job opportunities in mainland China and IT is becoming more important. So students who are good in Chinese or technical subjects - and who may not speak impeccable English - may end up with successful careers.' Mrs Law recalled a 'fierce but caring' Chinese teacher from St Mary's Canossian College who was indirectly responsible for setting her on her present career path. This particular teacher's dedication and professionalism left a deep impression. 'She was very hardworking; she gave each of us her individual attention and took pains to read every essay, circling our mistakes in red ink and writing lots of remarks at the end,' Mrs Law said. 'I had a lot of respect for her as well as the other teachers in my school. I decided then that I wanted to have a career which would command a similar respect.'