My Take

Blame game on student suicides misses the point: it’s elitism that piles on the pressure

It’s how our pupils are placed in schools – starting from kindergarten – that triggers the start of an inexorable rat race 

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 1:24am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 1:27am

There is nothing more disgusting and distasteful than to score a few political points by exploiting the suicides of young people.

Yet, some 20 lawmakers, mostly pan-democrats, did exactly that in the legislature this week. Among them were the usual suspects such as “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, People Power’s Albert Chan Wai-yip, Ray Chan Chi-chuen and the education sector’s representative Ip Kin-yuen.

Their antics included throwing fake blood-stained exam papers for the much-criticised Territory-wide System Assessment at the education minister, Eddie Ng Hak-kim.

Ng is among the most ineffectual ministers in the current administration. But it’s absurd to blame him for causing the recent spate of suicides, half a dozen of which were actually committed by students at Chinese University. How does that have anything to do with a flawed test for Primary Three pupils?

But let’s pretend those pan-dems were actually calling attention to our dysfunctional education system and for reform. How would we go about it? Let’s just cite one problem as an example.

Do we get rid of “the elite local schools” that every family fights over to get into? Well, you can’t, because they make up a powerful education lobby and most parents want them for the prestige and supposed quality they offer. And they are all over Hong Kong, which makes neighbourhood allocation – automatically admitting your child into the school closest to your home – impossible.

Once you keep the elite schools, the whole allocation system will remain highly competitive and full of pressure on students. At least that’s one main reason why our schools are like pressure cookers. That’s also why you have exam interviews for kindergartens and interview classes for toddlers.

A revamp of the allocation system – putting students in schools close to their homes – was actually a key feature of the education reform launched by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, but it was so watered down subsequently as to be meaningless except for government schools.

Tung’s failed initiative was the last best hope at a serious attempt to introduce reform.

It was killed by “tiger” parents, vested interests among the popular schools, teachers’ groups, the churches and government insiders themselves.

If our school system makes our kids commit suicide, then we all have blood on our hands.