SCMP Tuesday, May 9, 2000


Proposals may spell end for elite schools


Traditional elite schools may be eliminated by the proposed reforms, an Education Commission source says. He said although the changes were "not intended to eradicate all elites, such an outcome is possible".

"There's a line of thinking in society that would prefer the demise of elite schools. That makes the schools very frightened. Our [present] policy doesn't cherish elite schools and help them do better, while Band 5 [lowest-ranked] schools get more resources.

"Morale among elite schools is low. I don't see the prospect of a solution. It's a great pity."

Under the reform proposals, admission mechanisms for primary and secondary schools will be revamped to eliminate the process in which pupils are "banded" according to exam results.

The outcome is that traditional elite schools which are now able to choose the best students will have to allow for mixed abilities and admit those who live closest.

The source said the new system was aimed at ensuring no students failed to acquire a basic level of knowledge of the three core subjects of Chinese, English and mathematics. More efforts would be made to help the worst students improve.

"The problem with our system now is that we abandon this group of students at an early stage. Worse becomes worst. We want to narrow the gap.

"We will also have to produce more elites for the new economy. But if we don't help the under-performing, the grooming of elites will be adversely affected."

The source said the Education Commission hoped the public would be able to "see the stars and that there are a few concrete steps" for them to move ahead. "The community shares the sense of crisis and is near to a consensus on the direction over the past two rounds of consultation. Next is how can it be done? The commission does not really have a very detailed implementation plan.

"The education sector feels we have already moved too fast, but the community in general thinks we are going too slow. The system won't be able to cope with drastic changes overnight.

"They have got used to the old system by doing what was directed from above. Now that we remove the barriers and give them more space, they might not know what to do."

The source said the commission had not discussed the benchmarks for parents and the community at large to measure success of the reform in its initial stage. Nor did it want to say specifically how much the whole reform exercise would cost, although the Government had made an internal assessment.

"We want to get a consensus first on the cultural change," the source said.