SCMP Friday, February 9, 2001
Schools boss back-pedals on criticism
Education chief Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun apologised yesterday for a letter in which she said there was "a strong sense of dissatisfaction" with elite schools.
She admitted the remarks, in a letter sent on January 30 to Rosalind Chan Lo-sai, chairwoman of the Grant Schools Council - an organisation representing elite schools - were indiscreet.
In the letter, the Secretary for Education and Manpower said she had discussed education with friends over the Lunar New Year holiday and had found there was "a strong sense of dissatisfaction" with the traditional elite schools.
She also sent the letter to the 22 member schools of the council. However, Ms Law yesterday said: "My letter to Ms Chan was meant to be a reflection of the messages I received over the Chinese New Year vacation." She said she would apologise to Ms Chan for the comments.
She said she did not mean to criticise all traditional elite schools, and it would be bad to single out those at whom the criticism was aimed. "On reflection, I could be more discreet with the choice of words. I shall apologise to Rosalind later in the day," she said.
In the letter, Ms Law said she hoped the council would review existing practices critically.
The Grant Schools Council represents 22 elite subsidised secondary schools. Some elite schools have been attacked for being conservative and sticking to rote learning.
Chairman of the Board of Education Moses Cheng Mo-chi sent his elder daughter, who had been a student at an elite school, to study abroad because he felt rote learning in local schools was so bad that she had had marks deducted in school tests if her answers differed from model answers. He did not want to disclose the name of school.
Ms Law said in the letter the strong dissatisfaction with elite schools was echoed in an article in Ming Pao on the same day she wrote to Ms Chan.
Ms Chan, principal of St Mark's School in Shau Kei Wan, said Ms Law should not criticise elite schools on the basis of one case.
Norman So Chung-ping, principal of Wah Yan College (Kowloon), said it was natural that some people were not happy with Ms Law's comments. "I wonder if what Ms Law wrote in the letter were only general remarks and were raised out of goodwill," he said.
Cheung Kwok-wah, associate dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, said: "To be fair, there is wide variation among the elite schools. Some schools organise lots of extra-curricular activities for students," he said, adding the letter was inappropriate. "Ms Law is a strong-minded person. It's her style to write letters to educators when she comes up with an idea," he said.