Education reforms fail to reach the classroom

Will Clem

Review of school inspections critical of teachers' methods and management

Students in nearly half of local schools recently inspected continue to learn in a teacher-centred environment that fails to challenge or interest them, despite six years of education reforms aimed at putting them first, a report released yesterday by the Education and Manpower Bureau reveals.

Poor and unaccountable management in about one in three schools is also contributing to falling staff morale, and an unhealthy attitude to school inspections resulting in unnecessary work for teachers.

The annual report on school inspections carried out in primary, secondary and special schools in the 2004-05 school year found that although schools had made progress in certain areas of reform, much work remained to be done.

The findings were based on External School Reviews of 71 primary schools, 60 secondary schools and eight special schools, plus the more intensive Quality Assurance Inspections of two primary schools.

Some of the document's sternest criticism is levelled at teachers' methods and classroom management. It says teachers in 'nearly half of the schools' did not give students enough praise or encouragement, had 'merely mediocre' questioning skills that failed to stimulate students and were underestimating students' abilities.

'Class interaction in most of the schools was average. Lessons were teacher-centred, focused on the chalk-and-talk approach and were textbook-bound. Students' participation was insufficient. Interaction between teachers and students as well as among the students was inadequate. Effective ways to encourage students to engage in proactive learning were absent,' it says. As a result, students tended to be passive and 'seldom took the initiative to ask questions or express views'.

'That is the reality,' agreed Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers chairman Wong Kwan-yu. But he said it was unfair to blame teachers, who needed time to alter their approach.

Cheung Man-kwong, education legislator and president of the Professional Teachers' Union, said it was 'no surprise' that teachers were having trouble adapting. 'Who wouldn't want to teach in a more creative atmosphere?' he said. 'But the curriculum is so packed that they simply don't have time and they are under enormous pressure to get academic results.'

The report also criticises school management, saying 30 per cent of schools inspected were ineffectively led and monitored. Some heads 'paid little regard' to communication with teachers and did not keep school management committees informed about school affairs.

Some spent 'too much time and effort on unnecessary paperwork' as management was overly worried about getting 'favourable comments' from their reviews.

Hong Kong Parents' Association chairman Leung Chung-wan said: 'Young people need a wider range of skills than simply memorising facts. I am disappointed.'