SCMP Saturday, December 16, 2000
A slow road to reform
The Government's proposed curriculum reforms, now under consultation, will result in gradual rather than sudden changes in the school curriculum, according to education officials.
Dr Cheng Hon-kwan, chairman of the Curriculum Development Council (CDC), said he is not expecting major changes in schools in the first few years after reform, even though the consultation paper recommends a departure from the traditional learning process.
The CDC is the advisory body which developed the reform proposals unveiled last month.
Schools are being invited to take part in seed projects where teachers experiment with new teaching and learning strategies.
Consultants from the Education Department and universities will assist. Five projects are under way at schools in Tai Po and Kowloon, two of which concern raising students' interest in writing in Chinese.
Chief executive of the Curriculum Development Institute, Dr Catherine Chan Ka-ki, who worked closely with the CDC on the reform paper, said they did not want schools to feel sweeping changes were imminent. "We'd like them to accumulate experience in revising their curriculum and learn from the process. They should bring in changes with a step-by-step approach."
She expects up to 100 schools to start seed projects to make teaching more effective for their particular student population. "Other schools will follow suit and try out similar ideas if the seed projects turn out to be successful," she said.
The institute was created in 1992 as a division of the Education Department to provide support for schools in the implementation of curriculum policies. It has a key role in overseeing the transition to a new framework.
Dr Chan said more than 80 seminars were in the pipeline for parents, teachers, principals and textbook publishers to familiarise them with the CDC reforms. The next five years will also be a period of change. "We'll post experiences generated by schools on our Web site and our school-based staff will also spread the message about the need for a new framework," Dr Chan said.
"Hopefully by 2003, we will have the guidelines for various subjects ready. By 2005, we will act on the recommendations, but it is still up to schools themselves to come up with a curriculum that suit them."
If all goes according to plan, a new learning culture will be well-developed by 2010, with the much-hyped idea of lifelong learning taking root in Hong Kong. Consultation for the reform paper, Learning to Learn, runs until February, but there is general consensus that the traditional, non-student-centred curriculum must change to produce the type of manpower required today.
Dr Cheng said it was time for a holistic review as Hong Kong was becoming a knowledge-based economy, fuelling demand for professionals familiar with broad and ongoing learning practices. He added that the review had begun early last year, before the Education Commission mapped out its reform for the SAR's educational system. "The success of the educational reform requires success in curriculum changes," he said.
The reform proposals followed a restructuring within the CDC, which reduced the number of its subject committees, some of which overlapped one another.
The streamlining enhanced communication among council members, promoting a more efficient decision-making process.
The CDC's 25 members comprise primary and secondary school principals, teachers, parents, representatives from universities and the business sector.
Dr Cheng, who holds various positions, is also chairman of the Housing Authority. Despite the CDC's diverse membership, he maintains that members concurred on the types of changes needed in the system.
"We have balanced the views of members and created a reform that is student-based. Our reform provides the framework for schools to design their own curriculum and we encourage teachers to provide more room for questions to be asked in class, allowing students to present their views more and develop critical thinking," he said.
Dr Cheng is also an ex-officio member of the Education Commission, while Dr Chan is a member of the senior secondary working group under the commission.
Both are confident that the curriculum changes will be among many changes to come in education. "The content of examinations may be changed in future and universities too may put less emphasis on academic performances in their admission policy," said Dr Chan.
Under the reform proposals, teachers are expected to create their own handouts to meet the syllabus, rather than rely solely on textbooks. Schools are also recommended to provide students with field trips, outings and visits.
One of the reform aims is to let students develop generic skills in eight key areas - Chinese language; English language; mathematics; science; technology; personal, social and humanities values; arts and physical education.
The paper also emphasises the development of moral values and a sense of national identity.
The council has studied reforms in countries such as Singapore, New Zealand and Britain for ideas. More flexible teaching time, a key proposal in the consultation paper, was also raised in Singapore and Taipei in the 1990s.
In Western Australia, the provision of professional development for schools was a priority. In Hong Kong, the reform proposals also recognise the need for curriculum support materials and teacher development programmes.
Dr Chan, a key force behind the recent movement for change, maintains schools are encouraged to build on their strengths not just alter traditional practices. She is confident of widespread community support.
"Unlike before, some elite schools are open to change now. They know the reform is part of a societal trend; it is a social movement rather than a mere government policy," Dr Chan said.