The fundamental aim of education is to pass on knowledge to the next generations. For our society, education is a sacred mission. However, ever since Hong Kong became determined to further develop tertiary education, education has gradually become the “goose that lays golden eggs” for tertiary education institutes. Because subsidized tertiary education placements are scarce, the demand for self-financed courses is vast. These courses charge a huge amount of fees; the institutes subsequently receive lucrative profits. Therefore, all schools began to launch their own self-financed courses and solicit plenty of students, and that was the beginning of all troubles.
The establishment of self-financed courses is although understandable and inevitable. If we look back on the advanced western countries like Europe and the US, this was also how they developed their education industry, but this does not mean we should expand our education sector unthinkingly. We should not tolerate tertiary institutes’ over-accepting enrolments, thus betraying the education quality and principles. Nor should we allow institutes become a business and a “qualification factory”. Today’s original motion and all amendments have many suggestions on the topic of higher education. I deemed that many are very constructive, so I will not go into too much detail. But I do want to take this opportunity to talk about reviving the quality of primary and secondary education. Many of my friends and I have strong views on this issue.
Hong Kong’s primary and secondary education problems come in mountainous piles. The worst of all is losing students’ interests in learning. As a matter of fact, Hong Kong spends astronomical figures on education. It is of 22% of this financial year’s recurrent expenditure and the biggest expense of the Government. With such rich resources, it would only make sense for the education to be of high quality, but the reality is the complete opposite. Parents with the financial ability all want to help their children escape the Hong Kong education system. We often hear that Government officials like to send that children overseas for better education. Many of my friends and I have the same experience – our kids have totally lost interest in learning when attending local schools. But when they were sent overseas or to international schools, not only did they start to enjoy going to school, many of them even attained outstanding grades. Shouldn’t we be concerned about this phenomenon?
Many people believe the problem originates from Hong Kong’s education system. Ever since Hong Kong began providing nine-year free education, the Government has thrown in large amounts of resources. Education authorizes became responsible for the overall administration of the education system and implemented a central unified system to enforce strict guidelines on the content of courses, language policy, teacher requirements and examination system etc. Their power became extensive. Today, this central system of the Education Bureau is struggling to catch up to the rapid change of the society. At the same time, the Education Bureau has been putting forward education reforms non-stop. The idea of education reform originally means well, but the implementations often happened too fast – there is never time to relieve the stress of teachers at the frontline. As a result, not only do the reformations failed to meet their purposes, they further complicated the education headaches in Hong Kong.
How can we solve the immediate difficulties we are facing? A friend of mine who works in the education sector jokes that there should not be too much restriction, just send the officials from the Education Bureau to the frontline to teach. This friend might have been having a good laugh at the time, but loosening the ties that bind may actually be a good idea. I believe the Government should re-examine the entire education system, or at least simplify the current system to a certain level, in order to allow education organisations and schools some space for their own decision-making.
On the other hand, studies have shown that syllabus at local schools is too heavy. The Government should consider taking out certain parts from the syllabus. Since the launch of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE), certain schools have discovered that they are unable to finish the whole curriculum in the three years of senior secondary education. Schools have no choice but to solve this by setting up extra tuition sessions during holidays. As an aftermath, teachers and students are being driven to the edge from all the extra workload. We are in the era of “information-overload”. New information quickly replaces our current yet outdated knowledge. Therefore, taking out some parts of the syllabus would be a better idea than to forcefully cram information into students’ brains under Hong Kong’s “Peking Duck-style education”. The rest of the time can be used to teach them wisdom and lifelong learning. This would certainly be more beneficial to the future generations.
Besides parts of the curriculum, I believe there is one more thing that should be minimized, and that is homework. We are not experts, but from our point of view as parents, strenuous amounts of homework are the biggest culprit behind students losing their interests in learning. Students spend at least a good few hours every day on homework. Not only does it stress them out, it does not mean that they will consequently achieve better results. Most of the schools in Hong Kong give out a lot of homework, in theory, most students should obtain good grades. Alas, that is not the reality. Recently, the president of France vowed to get rid of homework, this pledge stirred up a lot of controversy. It would be almost impossible for Hong Kong to make “zero homework” come true. But if the curriculum can be minimized and more time is given to students to do their work at school, so that they would not have to do all assignments at home, the aim of cutting down homework can still be accomplished.
All in all, the key to reviving Hong Kong’s education quality is to revive students’ interests in learning. I have personally witnessed many cases where students, who had given up on their studies in local schools, recaptured the joy of learning while attending school overseas, even making stellar progress in their studies. I hope the Government will carefully consider the ideas suggested.