Jake's View

No Carrie, education doesn’t need more money. It needs less

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 11:11pm

[Chief executive-elect Carrie) Lam said she would discuss her plan to inject an additional HK$5 billion into education with lawmakers from across the political spectrum in the coming three months ...

-- SCMP, March 28

I entirely agree with this plan provided we make one small adjustment in the statement above. Let’s change the words “with lawmakers” to “for lawmakers”. They could use some education.

It’s otherwise a waste, and worse than a waste.

The chart tells the story. Twenty years ago, the number of job holders with a degree from a tertiary institute of education was pretty much matched on the job rolls with the number of managers, administrators and professionals, the people who might need a degree in their work.

Then again, a good number of them might not have needed that degree. The best administrator under whom I ever worked never went to university. He joined the army instead. And, no, he never gave us orders. He led.

None of the other occupation categories our statisticians list require degrees. Associate professional is a fancy word for technician, and then come clerical, service, sales and craft workers. Ordinary secondary education will do along with on-the-job training, plus a better dress sense than any university can teach.

But there was a rough match between degree holders and degree needers 20 years ago. Get yourself a degree -- outside of it being one in fine arts and flower arranging -- you could be pretty sure of putting that degree to work in the job market.

Not now. More than 30 per cent of job holders now have degrees, up from 12 per cent 20 years ago, and, as the chart shows, we have 440,000 more degree holders than we have jobs in management, administration and the professions.

How many years of education does it take to walk the aisles of an Airbus and say, “Chicken or vegetarian, sir? We’ve run out of the beef option.” Count yourself lucky if it is what you can do with a degree these days.

There is indeed such a thing as too much of a good thing and education is an excellent example of it just now.

When you put more money into formal education for a population that is already formally educated beyond its needs you do not get more or better educated people, but only people who are seriously stressed out.

They have wasted the best years of their lives in classroom boredom, are often heavily burdened by debt and the only way to make something of it is to throw even more good years after bad in an academic scramble over the heads of their classmates. A bachelor’s degree will no longer do. It must be a master’s now.

I find it ironic, that within one paragraph of our Tuesday mention of Carrie’s HK$5 billion education plan, our report stated that “one of the most agreeable subjects will be the abolition of a Primary Three compulsory test that is widely seen as a burden on children, parents and teachers.”

Poor kids. Whatever is abolished, that HK$5 billion promises an even worse burden yet of competitive pressure. If you want to relieve children’s burdens, Carrie, I suggest fining any school that permits its pupils to carry more than five kilograms in their schoolbags.

Yes, I agree there is more to learning than getting a good job. But how did this odd notion arise that it can only be done in a classroom? In fact, how much real learning is done in classrooms at all, when it largely consists of scoring points on tests that measure your ability to memorise artificial distinctions?

Education does not need more money. It needs less.