SCMP Saturday, September 15, 2001

Tunnel-vision schools lose sight

I was listening to a radio programme hosted by Wong Yuk-man on the subject of Hong Kong's education reforms and the reaction of the middle class when the discussion turned to why so many people were seeking places in international schools for their children.
K. M. Tai, a principal assistant secretary in the Education and Manpower Bureau, disagreed with the host's view that parents were fed up with the education system and were electing to send their children to international schools.
His reasoning was that many of these parents are returnees from abroad and their children would go overseas to study at tertiary level. To prepare them for this, international schools would provide more suitable environments, he said.
I think many people would disagree with Mr Tai's reasoning, which is defensive at best, turning a blind eye to public outcry at worst. What most parents want is a quality education that flows with current world trends, in which traditions are upheld, high standards of education and general knowledge and common sense are acquired, and the thirst for knowledge is instilled.
It takes years to build up a person's character, vision and discipline. Our education, in contrast, only emphasises the cultivation of mediocre students. We see so many people here with tunnel vision, telling us their concepts and policies are the best, when actually their logic is quite fallacious.
Allotting students' places by computer means good students cannot be placed in good schools. It is fair that the school principals should have the right to select 50 per cent of the applicants based on their standards, even for a public school. This way, we will not waste our resources to lower a good school's standards by forcing them to take in students who cannot cope with the school requirements.
Nor should we force good teachers to take mandatory retirement at the age of 60, but allow principals to evaluate and make recommendations. We need high-quality teachers who are dedicated, and who view teaching as their passion. On the other hand, parents should understand that with education, if there is no pain, there is no gain. They should not shed their parental duties in educating their children beyond school hours.
Arguments about mother-tongue teaching continue. This is a new time, a new age, where globalisation is in the ascendant. English has evolved as the global language and cannot be ignored. I graduated from a Chinese secondary school and understand fully the disadvantage of being in a Chinese school. When I first went to university abroad, I was unable to communicate, even in broken English.
We must accept that a good student needs a good foundation. We must strive to establish a good education system, emphasising excellence, leadership, creativeness and discipline. If not, our resources will be wasted and tunnel-visioned policies will continue. Please can Mr Tai look beyond his job and listen?