SCMP Monday, September 17, 2001

School funding may take back seat to the economy


Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa is expected to earmark extra funding to implement education reform and ease teachers' heavy workloads in his policy speech, but he is predicted to be less generous than has been the case in the past.
Education has been top of Mr Tung's political agenda in his previous addresses, but some academics warn public attention has shifted to bread-and-butter issues amid the economic downturn, and he will probably focus on the economy and employment.
Some influential education bodies believe schooling will still be a key area in the address because of Mr Tung's strong belief that investment in education is a better answer in the long-term to addressing readjustments in the economy than handouts or more welfare commitments.
Cheung Man-kwong, the legislator representing the education sector, said he expected Mr Tung to offer a substantial special fund, similar to the $5 billion Quality Education Fund, to implement education reform.
"In a meeting a few months ago, Mr Tung told me he appreciated the necessity of winning teachers' support for the successful implementation of reform.
"He may do something in the Policy Address to alleviate teachers' workloads," he said.
Speaking at a Teachers' Day reception earlier this month, Mr Tung said he understood the mounting pressure faced by teachers confronted by education reform and pledged to take action in order to reduce their burden.
An award-winning teacher, Yeung Yiu-shing, 42, jumped to his death early this month after being granted five months' sick leave in August for work-related stress.
Wong Kwan-yu, vice-president of the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, said he expected Mr Tung to provide more financial support for primary education, especially language education and information technology.
"There are insufficient qualified English-language teachers at primary schools.
"Unlike secondary schools, only a few primary schools are provided with native English-speaking teachers," Mr Wong said.
Primary Education Research Association chairman Paul Lee Kit-kong said Mr Tung might extend a three-year, $800 million fund started last year to alleviate teachers' workloads.
Most schools have used money from the grant to hire extra teaching and administrative assistants.