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In Hong Kong’s high-stakes education system, tutorial empires thrive on the fear of failure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2018, 7:31am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 September, 2018, 7:31am

I refer to the letter from Norman Wan, “Hong Kong tutorial centres offer short-cuts to good grades, but what about life’s tests?” (August 25).

Local students are seen as having a deep-rooted affinity for rote-learning and cramming for exams, made necessary by an elitist education system with a narrow focus, characterised by both a mandated curriculum and standardised assessment. Achieving individual and academic gains are paramount as stepping stones to a higher socio-economic status.

Unfortunately, the authorities have for decades implicitly fostered and even justified the high-stakes examinations and stratification of the education system, with arguments about meritocracy and excellence. Examinations still play a major role in social stratification through selective entry to the next stage of the educational ladder, a seat in the local undergraduate university system.

That makes many families flock to the private tutoring sector each year, as public schooling is considered inadequate in meeting their needs in such a competitive environment. They need extra “sure-fire” tactics like analysing and forecasting exam and question patterns, studying ready-to-read revision guides, and attending endless mock examinations for extra drilling in order to stand out in the supposedly zero-sum game of local education.

The highly commercialised, organised and mature mini-tutoring empire certainly reflects students’ anxieties, expectations, and hopes for academic success but also the pressure for them to be “successful”. The provision of education is commodified, with services bought and sold in the educational marketplace. Tutorial centre advertisements capitalise on a range of emotions, especially inadequacy and fear, to expand their market.

Why is private tutoring such a big deal in Hong Kong?

Despite various changes to the education infrastructure, there has been no genuine transformation as far as the exam-oriented nature of the system is concerned. Test scores are still seen as more crucial than the learning they should represent.

Our knowledge-based world does not lack intelligent people. However, only a few are both knowledgeable and compassionate. Our society certainly needs more enthusiastic and passionate educators to guide and inspire students along the lifelong learning journey. Meanwhile, as teenagers, we can all make a difference, as we are the future. May this difference be rooted in clear thinking and sensitivity towards diversity.

Adrian Lam, Kornhill