Traditional teaching methods in Hong Kong obstruct students’ creativity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 4:55pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 January, 2017, 9:45pm

Singapore has topped the global Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) rankings for 2015, announced last month, in mathematics, science and reading. In the past few years, Hong Kong has been second in all three domains, but this year in science, it dropped to ninth position behind Vietnam.

Clearly there are things to learn. Singapore has invested about 3.4 per cent of its gross domestic product in education, whereas in Hong Kong, we spend about 4.4 per cent of GDP on education. So Hong Kong spends more, but does not appear to be more effective.

Its teachers lose their way in the complex maze of education policies. Singapore has developed successful pedagogic approaches to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teaching, such as the maths mastery approach.

The promotion of STEM education started late in Hong Kong in 2015, and the Innovation and Technology Bureau was established in the same year. Their effects are yet to be seen. In fact, pedagogical practices have been evolving over the years, starting with traditional approaches such as self-instruction, the way we learn naturally on our own, followed by the teacher-centred approach, in which teachers take the initiative.

Following those approaches, more modern ones have sprung up which include self-learning in which students learn outside the classroom under the teacher’s guidance, peer-learning whereby students learn from each other, and finally peer instruction in which weaker students learn from the smarter students through discussions in class.

It is time to change the traditional ways of teaching. They obstruct the eagerness to learn and creativity of students.

In a flipped classroom (where the traditional learning environment is reversed), class time can be used more effectively for cognitive guidance and feedback instead of direct teaching.

The learning environment will be more dynamic and interactive and arouse students’ interest. Students learn about the teaching content in advance outside class, such as watching an online video on a particular topic at home. They apply the knowledge to reconstruct the teaching content in a creative manner under the guidance of the teacher and share among peers during group discussion.

The rapid fall in the ranking of science in Pisa should set off alarms and illustrates the need for education reforms in Hong Kong. STEM education is the hardware and we must upgrade the software, that is, the pedagogical approach.

Dr Raymond Tam, principal, G. T. (Ellen Yeung) College