The following is the speech entitled "Education Reform in Hong Kong -- The Way Ahead" by the Director of Education, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Luncheon Meeting of Y's Men's Club of Hong Kong today (November 1):
Mr Sit, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to join you here today at the luncheon meeting of the Y's Men's Club of Hong Kong. This is an excellent opportunity for me to take stock of the progress on education reform in Hong Kong so far and to chart the way forward.
* Commitment to improving quality of education in Hong Kong
In his inaugural Policy Address in 1997 following the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government, the Chief Executive, Mr Tung Chee-hwa said, "Education is the key to the future of Hong Kong. It provides a level playing field for all and the human resources for further economic development." Four years later, the Chief Executive, in his 2001 Policy Address, stressed "One of the Government's most fundamental tasks is to make significant investments in education to prepare each one of us for the advent of the knowledge-based economy. We understand that people care deeply about the development of the younger generation, and hope that their children can receive an education of the best quality. Over the past few years, despite tight government finances caused by the financial crisis, we have continuously increased our investment in education. Funding has surged from $37.9 billion in 1996-1997 to $55.3 billion in 2001-2002, a 46% increase over five years. Regardless of Hong Kong's economic situation, you can rest assured that in the next five to ten years, spending on education will continue to increase year after year."
These are the words of the Chief Executive. Clearly, education is high on the HKSAR Government's agenda, and rightly so. Education is vitally important. In enhancing the quality of our human resources, the Government sees education as an investment in our future, rather than as expenditure. The Chief Executive has made a firm, clear and long-term commitment to investing heavily in Hong Kong's education at a time when many sectors are shrinking in face of the current economic downturn. Education is virtually the only area which continues to enjoy a steady, high-speed growth. However, we must ensure that valuable resources are well spent to achieve the desired results. And we must constantly remind ourselves that spending does not necessarily mean achievement!
* The need for change
The new Millennium has seen unprecedented changes and challenges. Advance in science, the accelerating trend of a globalising and knowledge-based economy, not to mention the increasing need to be technologically adept, are some of the major challenges our young people have to face today. To cope with the challenges of the 21st century, education in Hong Kong must keep abreast of global trends. Educators are striving to equip students with the necessary knowledge and technical know-how as well as to stimulate their imagination and motivation. The ultimate goals are to enhance students' competitiveness to meet the demands of a fast changing world and become lifelong learners, and to empower them to learn beyond the confines of the classroom so as to master life-long skills that can be used outside schools.
Last year, the HKSAR Government accepted the recommendations of the Education Commission to reform the education system relating to the academic structure, the curricula and the assessment mechanism, which aimed to enhance Hong Kong's competitiveness in a knowledge-based economy. Our vision is to nurture a generation of young people who have creative thinking, good communication skills, a strong sense of commitment and a solid foundation for lifelong learning.
* Basic tenets of education reform in Hong Kong
The education system was comprehensively reviewed and the blueprint for education reform in Hong Kong for the 21st century has been drawn up on the basis of five principles:
- First, as students are the main protagonists in learning, the education reform should be student-focused in the sense that their needs and interests must be the first and foremost consideration;
- Second, each and every student should have equal opportunities to learn and develop their potential without being discriminated. Not a single student should be left behind since "a child miseducated is a child lost", as the former US President John Kennedy once remarked;
- Third, to ensure the quality of education, students, whatever their abilities, must be equipped with a basic level of competence with which they can constantly learn and upgrade themselves while the more able ones can achieve excellence;
- Fourth, learning transcends the constraints of forms, contents and physical setting and students should be exposed to a comprehensive range of learning activities both inside and outside the classroom; and
- Finally, the entire community should be mobilised to collaborate with one another and contribute to a lifelong education.
Our vision is simply that our students should be creative, motivated to learn, effective in communication, and committed to their families, society, country and the global community.
* Achievements in the past year
It has been exactly a year since the Government accepted in full the reform package of the Education Commission. What has been achieved so far? Where do we go from here? Is education reform more rhetorics than substance - long on political slogans but short on practical and viable measures ? There has been persistent criticism in certain quarters that the current education reform is much too fast, radical, chaotic and confusing. Some cynics even suggest that the reform is in pursuit of mediocrity, not excellence, and is likely to end up as an exercise in futility. Let me stress that this criticism is totally misplaced. I will elaborate on this a little later.
The road to reform is bumpy and thorny. Indeed, any change will inevitably lead to anxiety, fear and unease, let alone resistance. However, the initial results of education reform have been encouraging and these indicate that our overall direction is correct. Over the past year, we have made steady progress in implementing the reform. We are beginning to see evidence of success among schools, which are proactive in experimenting with new ways of teaching and learning that are consistent with the aims of education reform. Schools are more ready to adopt innovative practices, engage in networking and active dialogue with their counterparts, and share amongst them their good practices and successful experiences. A new culture of teaching and learning is emerging in our schools. This paradigm shift is facilitated by the building up of district teacher networks, education intranet, professional collaboration projects amongst schools and collaboration with partners in tertiary institutions and the business sector to promote schools' professional development.
To tie in with the reform, even the Education Department has to change its mindset. We are undergoing a major business re-engineering process and culture shift. Our role has changed from that of a regulator to that of a facilitator in helping the development of individual schools. The Education Department is now far more customer-focused and result-oriented than ever before. We see ourselves more of a partner with frontline teachers than of a prefect or monitor! We need to continue to master new paradigms and acquire new perspectives and skills to chart our way forward, and immense efforts will be required to see through the education reform in Hong Kong. We are determined to work closely with all educational groups and front-line educators to build a partnership that would ensure the success of our reform and improve the quality of education.
* New tasks ahead
In the coming year, our key tasks will be to enhance language proficiency, to strengthen teachers' professional development, to improve early childhood education, to strengthen support for primary and secondary schools, and to further develop a diversified school system.
To enhance language standard, we shall:
- introduce progressively the Native English-speaking Teacher (NET) and the English Language Teaching Assistant (ELTA) schemes to primary schools, with the ultimate objective of providing each primary school with one NET or ELTA; and
- promote "Learning through Reading" to cultivate students' good reading habits and self-learning techniques.
To promote teachers' professional development, we shall:
- provide school-based professional support for 200 primary schools and 150 secondary schools each year to help enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning, develop school-based curriculum, improve organizational management and strengthen student support.
To improve early childhood education, we shall:
- encourage the employment of qualified kindergarten teachers to achieve the target of 100% qualified kindergarten teaching force by the 2004/05 school year;
- require all newly recruited kindergarten principals to complete the Certificate in Education (Kindergarten) course;
- improve the Kindergarten Fee Remission scheme with particular attention to the needs of single-parent families; and
- consult the public on the harmonization of the operation and regulatory system of kindergartens and childcare centers.
To strengthen support for primary schools, we shall:
- provide additional funds to enhance student guidance and counselling services for primary school students;
- create an additional graduate post for each primary school to provide leadership in curriculum development; and
- provide a lump sum grant for primary schools to continue to engage IT support and co-ordination services.
To strengthen support for secondary schools, we shall:
- increase the Capacity Enhancement Grant by 50% to $450,000 per school per year to enable schools to engage staff or procure services most appropriate to their own circumstances;
- implement a two-year enrichment programme for about 1,000 gifted students to nurture gifted students; and
- provide a lump sum grant for secondary schools to continue to engage IT support and co-ordination services.
To further develop a diversified school system, we shall:
- continue to encourage school sponsors to operate different types of senior secondary schools with unique characteristics to facilitate the nurturing of students who are both specialized and have a diversified knowledge base;
- continue to enhance the diversity and flexibility in the school system through the development of private independent schools and Direct Subsidy Scheme schools; and
- encourage the adoption of the "through-train" mode to provide students with a more coherent learning process.
* Skepticism towards education reform
Rome is not built in one day, and success of the education reform cannot be achieved within a short time without the concerted efforts of all stakeholders in the education sector. Reforming the primary and secondary education is a complex undertaking, and is bound to evoke different responses from the community in the early stages of implementation. There is, of course, room for improving the implementation of the reform measures. We are fully aware of the skepticism and criticism levelled at us. Where justified and appropriate, we will adjust our pace and fine-tune our approach without detracting from the overall thrust of reform. But we must reject any unfounded criticism, dispel any unwarranted misgivings and clear the air. We must debunk the myth and bring out the truth.
A typical area of serious misunderstanding, I am afraid, is the public perception that we are seeking to undermine elitism and promote mediocrity in our school system by reforming the Secondary School Places Allocation (SSPA) System. Let me stress that the purpose of this change is to put an end to unnecessary drillings and remove the pressure of high-stake public assessment in the admission system so that our students will progress without these obstacles. As a result, the Academic Aptitude Test was abolished last year to provide schools and teachers with more space to focus on the all-round and whole-person development of students; the number of allocation bands has been reduced from five to three to lessen the labelling effect on schools and students; and the proportion of discretionary places has been increased to 20% to enable students to stand a better chance of going to a school of their choice. These interim measures will be reviewed in the 2003/04 school year so as to put in place a permanent SSPA mechanism in 2004 or 2005.
We have no intention whatsoever of undermining elitism by introducing changes to the SSPA System starting from the 2000/01 school year. Although the interim measure to reduce banding from five to three last year resulted in about 30% of secondary schools receiving a wider diversity of student abilities, diverse abilities do not necessarily reduce learning and teaching effectiveness since schools can make use of the strengths of different students to help them complement each other. Besides, the labelling effect of banding weakens students' confidence and adversely affects their interest in learning. To tackle the problem of student diversity, we have already put in place a series of support measures to help schools cope with it.
Another area of heavy criticism is the Medium of Instruction (MOI) policy implemented in secondary schools since 1998. The Government has been accused of wavering and being inconsistent in implementing the policy since schools using Chinese as the medium of instruction may now opt to use English to teach certain subjects in certain classes at Secondary 4 and Secondary 5 levels this year. Such a policy is, in fact, perfectly in line with the Medium of Instruction Guidance for Secondary Schools implemented in the 1998/99 school year. Let me stress that the MOI policy is to ensure that students master the knowledge of academic subjects and develop their higher order thinking with the least language barrier. Mother-tongue teaching is therefore encouraged and the choice of English as the MOI is premised on teacher capability, student ability and provision of support measures. Since the implementation of the MOI policy in 1998, the education sector has recognized that mother-tongue teaching is conducive to the development of students' cognitive and learning ability. More and more parents come to realize the benefits of mother-tongue teaching, but it certainly needs time for the policy to take root. At present, the implementation of the MOI policy is being closely monitored by the Education Department through school inspections, and research studies are being conducted to evaluate its effectiveness. The long-term MOI arrangements after 2004 would be reviewed in conjunction with the SSPA system in the 2003/04 school year. Meanwhile, the Standing Committee on Language Education and Research (SCOLAR) is conducting a comprehensive review of the curriculum, teacher training, pedagogy and support measures relating to language education. SCOLAR is expected to make recommendations to the Government next year.
The objective of the education reform is to create more space and choice for students to realize to the full their potential in accordance with their aptitude and interests. Although the road to education reform is thorny, we must have confidence and patience, and be pragmatic and steadfast in taking the reform forward. We will seek to forge close collaboration with the school sponsoring bodies, principals, teachers, parents, tertiary institutions, government departments, non-government organizations and the business sector in the pursuit of excellence in education, and we pledge to work together on the basis of care, commitment and trust. But any lasting improvement in education will come only if all the stakeholders join hands to achieve it. No party can claim that education is outside their arena, nor can they opt out of the reform. As Aristotle said, "The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet". We firmly believe and working together, we shall succeed in enhancing the quality of education for our younger generation and maintaining Hong Kong's competitive edge as a world-class city. Education reform is very much a socio-cultural movement. Its success hinges on collective community support, no more nor less. Thank you.
End/Thursday, November 1, 2001