SCMP Thursday, April 6, 2000
Everyone's help needed to meet education goals
The long-awaited consultation document on school-based management (SBM) has mapped out a strategy which will alter the local educational landscape fundamentally.
SBM has been in place in developed countries for a number of years. When it was first introduced, critics talked about conspiracy theories.
For example, they feared that this was an attempt to shift responsibility for educational failure.
Under SBM, the central government of a country devolves more powers to local schools and therefore demands that such institutions be accountable. This may sound fair. However, SBM critics have argued that if a school fails to meet its educational goals, the blame for that failure will be placed solely on the school.
Such fears may be unfounded in Hong Kong, but a debate on this issue should raise questions about who should be responsible for providing quality education. Another criticism of SBM is that it is a disguised attempt by a government to cut or cap educational expenditure. It remains to be seen if this will happen in the SAR.
To attain educational effectiveness, an administration needs to do more than restructure a school. A government committed to introducing SBM must ensure proper resource allocation for all schools.
There must be adequate funds and they must be distributed efficiently and fairly. To make SBM work, adequate resources need to be allocated to train those individuals who will be responsible for running schools. The block grants which will be given to schools in the SAR appear to be substantial (for a standard secondary school, more than $30 million; for a standard primary school, in excess of $20 million).
However, the total expenditure may still not be enough to ensure quality education. When the grant is being calculated annually, the necessary adjustments should be made to take account of the need to make improvements and enable the education system to grow. Government officials must accept that in spite of overall budgetary restraints in recent years, education is a long-term investment. We will suffer in the long term if we do not provide our classrooms with the resources they need. Of course, it is only right and proper that we should demand that all schools operate in an efficient manner. In order to ensure there is no mismanagement, the block grant should be introduced in phases. Also, the problem of teachers having excessive workloads should be tackled early. If this problem is left unresolved, it could undermine efforts to reform education in Hong Kong.
It is also important that the central education authority should be restructured, to make it less hierarchical and more client oriented.
Local research on the effects of SBM also needs to be conducted, to determine the value of this system and the direction it should take. We have to look at the cultural implications of SBM in the SAR. The rash and wholesale transplanting of a set-up which has worked overseas could be counter-productive in Hong Kong.
Some positive aspects of a system of education are difficult to gauge through research. Pupils in one class may excel, because their teacher is a skilled communicator. Some teachers may inspire their students by example. Therefore we must guard against "de-skilling" teachers through over-reliance on performance studies and the imposition of performance guidelines.
Two other areas which need to be reformed are curricula and our system of public exams.
Finally, a social climate conducive to the healthy growth and development of youth is indispensable. The Government should devise a clear youth policy and co-ordinate territory-wide efforts at nurturing the next generation.
I support school-based management, because it enables people to make decisions on issues which matter to them.
However, quality education cannot be achieved by SBM alone. It is only one part of an overall strategy, with the Government, schools and the community working together to achieve their educational goals.