SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000
Experts fly in to assist reforms
The Government is supporting its programme of education reform with extensive professional development, drawing on the expertise of leading international educationalists.
Professor John MacBeath, a member of the British Government's task force on standards in education and chair of Educational Leadership at Cambridge University, and Archie McGlynn, former chief inspector of schools for Scotland, left Hong Kong this week after conducting lectures, seminars and workshops with Education Department officials and inspectors, school sponsoring bodies, and principals.
During their visit, the educators focused on how to implement improvement in schools through inspections and self-evaluation. They are also hoping to be able to organise exchange visits to Britain and Sweden for those leading the implementation of education reforms in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Dr Mary James, a colleague of Professor MacBeath in Cambridge, has been in Hong Kong at the invitation of the Curriculum Development Council, working on the implementation of processes of formative assessment, intended to replace many of the tests and much of the rote learning that students face.
Professor MacBeath is also chairman of the new International Network for Educational Improvement (INEI), which opened its Hong Kong office last week. The office's managing director is former assistant director of education Tsui See-ming, while Mr McGlynn, who retired last month from his post in Scotland, is one of its directors. Li Yuet-ting, a former director of education in Hong Kong, is its honorary adviser.
"We will see in what ways we can bring some of the best people in the world - from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom and Australia - to support developments in Hong Kong," said Professor MacBeath. "We see so much that is common between what is happening in Hong Kong and the rest of the world. The more we can work collaboratively, the more we can all benefit."
Mr Tsui said that there was a danger that overseas systems not suitable locally could be imposed on schools. "We think it is better to have the bright ideas and good experiences from outside merged with local experiences, so we can deliver a package that is not purely a British, European or American product, but one that has already taken into account local values and systems."
Professor MacBeath and Mr McGlynn put particular emphasis on methods of enhancing the quality of schools' culture and ethos, with quality indicators developed in Scotland being used as a reference.
Their reference point is the belief that the quality of a school is demonstrated not just by exam results, but the whole ethos, judged from everything from the smiles on teachers' and students' faces, the welcoming atmosphere for parents and the physical environment, to the creative approach to teaching and learning.
The SAR's policy documents for education reform were as visionary as anything in the world, Mr McGlynn said. "It is now about turning the good intentions into action and improvement in students' all-round performance. That is the big test," he said.
Professor MacBeath, who was on his fourth visit to Hong Kong, said that enlisting the support of frontline educators was vital if the reforms were to work. "That is part of the cultural shift required. We are keen to support and learn from the people of Hong Kong, to try to change the culture over time but retain the best of it. People are receptive to the idea of change and improvement, but anxious about how to do it."
The stress felt by teachers in Hong Kong was typical, he said. "In every country we work in, including Germany, Canada, the UK, New Zealand and Singapore, teachers are under stress and pressure to do more. This is an endemic part of the pace of social change. The challenge to the system is how you help and support that."
In the long term, schools could be rebuilt and class sizes reduced, he said. "But in the short term we have to ask what can be done with given resources. You can either moan and say things are awful, or ask what you can do positively to help young people, and work out how to give each other mutual support."
Dr James, a member of the influential Assessment Reform Group in Britain, said teaching techniques were a focal point for reform. "If teachers use assessment in a formative way it can have a considerable impact on the performance of students," she said. Rather than using tests, teachers should discuss with students the quality of their work and give them pointers as to how to move on to the next stage of learning.
Dr James is on her second visit to Hong Kong. This week she has been working with senior members of the Curriculum Development Institute, the Education Department and the Board of Education, as well as visiting several schools and conducting a public lecture at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.