Equality is key to a good education system

  • Whether universities use only grades or ‘a whole person’ assessment approach in admitting students, rich and better-off families will always have the resources to prepare their children for any admission criteria
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 October, 2018, 8:26pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 October, 2018, 11:08pm

There is a heated debate over education reform started by two unlikely people.

At a recent University of Hong Kong forum on education where former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung served as the symposium’s chairman, he told an audience that the current university admission system overemphasised the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) scores and ignored non-academic experiences and specialities such as those in sports and arts. Instead, local universities should consider “the whole person” for admission.

That drew a sharp rebuttal from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who was a guest. She claimed giving weight to non-academic factors could disadvantage those who were less well off.

Using herself as an example, she said she might not have been admitted to HKU as a student if it had put extra emphasis on a student’s portfolio, as her strength laid in taking exams.

Predictably, her remarks drew wide criticism. Her response belies the government’s new HK$900 million fund to encourage more after-school activities for students in the 2019 to 2020 academic year. It sounds like she doesn’t believe in the funding, but just handed it out to keep critics at bay.

Lam rejects idea that life experience is more important than exam results

But while Leung’s position may be more humane, neither of them, nor their many critics, addressed the fundamental issue facing local education: class.

Social inequality within the education system – and society at large – has risen significantly in the past 20 years. The government’s education policy has made it worse.

Whether universities use only grades or “a whole person” assessment approach in admitting students, rich and better-off families will always have the resources to prepare their children for any admission criteria.

They can pay for an army of academic tutors, or “leadership” trainers if it’s “personality” a university looks for.

There are, in effect, two education systems in Hong Kong. One is for the masses, provided by government and most aided schools. The other is the more elitist schools, which receive direct public subsidies but usually also charge additional tuition and can redesign, within limits, the government-mandated curriculums.

The way forward is clear, if equality of opportunity is the goal. New funding, including the HK$900 million fund, should be earmarked for government schools and aided ones to allow the same flexibility currently only available to direct-subsidy schools in redesigning programmes and catering to more individualised needs.

There should be no difference in terms of quality between the two systems, only funding methods.