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We need fresh ideas on education amid official inaction, Hong Kong principals say, as 400 gather for brainstorming conference

To hear veteran educators tell it, government is only focused on short-term problems and pumping money into the system

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 3:21pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2018, 9:29pm

When Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor took the reins of government last year, she promised fresh thinking and innovative solutions to the city’s problems.

Half a year on, education experts say that while much-needed money has been pumped into the sector, ideas for reform to address fundamental flaws in the system are still scarce.

Fearing this might continue, 400 secondary school heads have formed a platform for teachers, parents and pupils to brainstorm the future direction of education in the city.

“The government spends quite a bit on education and there are a lot of educators with the heart to teach, but why are people still not satisfied with the system?” said Michael Wong Wai-yu, honorary executive secretary of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools. “Why are the youth unhappy?”

With questions like these on their minds, the association is organising the two-day event for Friday and Saturday titled Education Colloquium: Vision 2047, which will take place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.

The gathering will feature speeches and discussion forums with a range of big names in education including former president of Lingnan University Edward Chen Kwan-yiu, CEO of the Centre for Strategic Education in Melbourne, Anthony Mackay, and Purvee Chauhan, who works on improving education in India.

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Lam will attend the opening session, while Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung and officials from his bureau will also be at some of the events.

Wong, a former principal, said that unlike conferences that focus only on headmasters, this event would host everyone from students, parents and teachers to NGOs and lawmakers, and even teachers in training, to help encourage everybody to think outside the box.

“I do not see any innovative ways to improve education coming from the Education Bureau or the Education Commission,” Wong said.

The government seemed to focus mostly on fixing problems when they surfaced and injecting money, he said.

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Soon after taking office last year, Lam announced an extra HK$3.6 billion a year in spending – part of a HK$5 billion plan she promised earlier – for the education sector.

Lee Suet-ying, the association’s chairwoman and principal of Ho Yu College and Primary School, said it was important for Hong Kong to have a vision and policies to work towards that vision in the run-up to 2047, when Beijing’s 50-year promise expires to maintain the “one country, two systems” governing formula that guarantees Hong Kong’s autonomy.

However, that year should not be targeted for its political connotations but rather because it represented the future and a time when today’s students would have their own children, Lee added.

Wong said he hoped learning would not only focus on results but rather intellectual, spiritual and social growth.

Lastly, Lee expressed hope for flexibility in the curriculum.

“The current education system is too rigid,” she said. “For example, some special-needs students may be good at art, but not in subjects like English and liberal studies. Under the current system, these students cannot make it to an art programme at a local university.

“I hope education can cater to everyone’s individuality.”