SCMP Internet Edition Saturday, April 1, 2000

Class system

The Education Commission's proposal to reform the structure of the education system will be seen by some as a move to de-colonialise it.

Now that the British have gone, so the argument goes, it is time to drop the "five-two-three" English system - five-year secondary, two-year sixth form and three-year university - and align it with China's "six-four" structure - six years of secondary school and four years of university.

But we need not invoke political considerations to justify moving to a system more suited to the needs of the society the SAR aims to create.

The English system is unnecessarily restrictive, with two sets of examinations - the O Levels and A Levels - exerting great pressure on students in their last years of secondary education. It also encourages early streaming of students into arts, science and commerce groupings, which is contrary to the contemporary emphasis on multi-disciplinary studies. Adopting the "six-four" system has the advantages of eliminating one set of exams and providing space at schools and universities to broaden curriculums.

For secondary students, the change, coupled with moves to reduce rote learning and encourage creativity, will make a big difference to the culture of learning. For university students, the reform will be especially helpful in enabling them to participate in the range of opportunities on campus: the vibrant social life and atmosphere of knowledge for its own sake.

The changes will, of course, increase the bill for education. Children who now normally leave school after completing Form Five will stay for another year. An extra year of university education will also add to the cost.

But Hong Kong spends a modest 3.8 per cent of Gross Domestic Product on education, considerably less than most developed countries. Funding must increase not just to accommodate the changes, but to produce a creative, self-motivated workforce for the future economy.