Perspective: where the system has gone wrong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 9:45am

To grow trees requires a decade; to nurture people requires a century. This may be metaphorical, but the well-known Chinese axiom reflects what it takes to do education, properly speaking. It is on this basis many educators have taken it upon themselves as carrying out a great mission.

Recently Dr Tse, a local high school principal, voiced his opinions on the state of our education, with misgivings. He takes this great mission as his starting point, and his worries merit our attention. We may not agree with all he says, but at least we should pause and think about his words.

  • Education is a great mission, and it takes time, long-term effort and perseverance. It is unlike other enterprises because a successful outcome cannot be measured quantitatively. From an investment standpoint, the return cycle will not be short.

Thus for the government to appoint an Administrative Officer (AO) - using a "corporatist approach" taken from a business model, and applying a bureaucratic means to manage our school system - is a mismatched move.

When I was in high school, I had to study science and arts subjects together

The government's practice of appointing an AO to head the departments is long-established. It didn't just pop up last year.

Whether the traditional "generalist" approach is well adapted to contemporary society is debatable although, it seems, it all depends on what model is being used rather than who is to take charge.

Given the background training of the AO, whether she is equipped with the knowledge and vision of the "great mission" to nurture young people is a different matter.

  • We used to have two public exams for secondary school pupils, one after Form Five (the HKCEE), the other after Form Seven (the A-levels). Now we have only one - the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education taken at the end of Form Six, the final year of the new school system.

So the authorities have collapsed two (Form Five, Form Seven) public exams into one. This causes much inconvenience to those who may want to quit after Form Five, Tse asserts, because now everyone is locked in the sixth year to take the HKDSE.

But few students want to quit after Form Five, and it is rare that students find it impossible to complete their sixth year in the new system.

  • Introducing a liberal studies course into the secondary school curriculum has created controversy. Tse questions whether we need to teach "critical thinking" by having such a course in the first place, and whether it is fair to test students with just one exam, or by one school-based assessment exercise. Why can we not provide such training through other subjects?

Here, I believe, he has a good point. When I was in high school, I had to study science and arts subjects together. In a way, learning physics and geography simultaneously greatly benefited us.

We absorbed various kinds of knowledge and, without knowing it, were trained to broaden our horizons. At the same time we learned how to see the world with a balanced - or "critical" - view. But this is not the case in our schools today.

To bridge the gap between arts and science students, the Education Bureau designed the liberal studies course in good faith, in the hope that it might be a good way of integrating the two disciplines.

As a matter of principle, Tse is right: we could achieve the same result by bringing the sciences and arts together, as I was fortunate enough to experience. The question is: can we do it? Ronald Teng is the founder of MEA, a promoter of liberal arts education