Sunday, 17 February 2008

EDUCATION IN HONG KONG - why is it failing and how can it be improved?

This is some open space for an exchange of opinion on questions that I find important to me, and perhaps to you - and invite your opinions for my edification. It's often said that learning is not really about getting answers, but about asking the right question - thats a good starting point heh?
This will hopefully be a forum and could you please leave your views here


This is something that has been bothering me for a while, and I'd really like to do something about it. In order to do that, I'm trying to understand the problem better and want to pick your brains.
There're many problems that worry me, but the central theme is that the system is failing most young people in Hong Kong because the education isn't really education.
This is, obviously, based on my assumption about what education should ideally be - and I welcome different opinions. (In fact i'm making a fairly moderate proposition - education should actually help students to learn and develop themselves)
1. People don't genuinely learn very much in schools, whether good schools or shit schools. In general, good schools only focus on grades and students try very hard to get the grades; there's a gap between the grades and the students' real ability. When society only focuses on the end result and ignores the real point behind the end result, we lose our directions and forget the real meaning of education and examinations. We are all familiar with the theory about learning not ONLY for the sake of exam results, so i won't labour on that point. But my point is that people blindly pursue grades at the expense of their own intellectual development.
How has this demonstrated itself? Basically i hate this tutorial madness phenomenon - people all opt for the easy way and get dummies notes from their colleges, and get good grades based on those notes. I personally also did benefit from those notes (laughs), but that's really sad because we assume we can't think and read and make notes for ourselves and have to be spoonfed. And after exams and some regurgitation exercise, we forget most of what we learnt in these years. Some people say it's the soft skills we've learnt that count for the rest of our lives, but i think its fairly defeatist to take it for granted that the knowledge acquired can just fly away.
That's already for the students who actually care about their own education. They sadly haven't found the right way to do it (not through their own fault, but mainly through the whole culture within society). Some people might know what i'm coming on to now - that's the sadness of the teaching of English in most schools in hong kong. People don't see languages as tools for communication in daily life, but isolated in the exam context. ie people do grammar and exam drills and get As... but they cant actually speak English. How is this system helping students to learn? That's just NOT right!

2. I'd also like to say education in HK fails students because it fails to inspire and develop people's interests and dreams, and keep them alive when they develop further. This also means society lacks diversity in its range of talents and flourishing industries. It's very much society that's to blame I agree, because of the pressure of conformity and the lack of support in this existing economy with its direction of go banking and professionals... People see their jobs as jobs, and their interests and dreams are either forgotten or buried. They might like music, art, drama, sports or anything else, and are very good at that, but they can't go on to do it. There're too many examples around me and you.
When one takes a step back and asks why, I think there's something failing within the education system itself that does not provide students with that element of individuality and freedom to develop themselves, against the current of society.

The questions have been recurring in my mind for a while and i haven't quite come to a proper understanding, and I invite you all to tell me whether you think the system is failing, and why you think it is - what is wrong? I'd really like to know better what the problem is from as many perspectives as possible - one can only starts thinking of a solution by understanding the problems one is to tackle.

I've been trying to do some comparison with education systems abroad, but obviously haven't quite started, and know very little. I've only seen for myself the university education system here, and heard quite a lot about the public school system in England - the only meagre foreign experience i've got.
THere's one programme on BBC which is called 'Top of the class' - it was broadcast a while ago, but i found it very inspiring.
It basically presents some perspective on the education in Finland which focuses on equality, and some other elitist systems like public schools in England and Harvard University. They have different ways of achieving a good education (good in different ways) within the conditions of their own society.

I'm also looking to see more about successful examples to extrapolate something useful from foreign systems (not wholesale export because education is responsive to a certain culture - and that culture varies for different societies I think), but I think that will be a useful point of reference to inspire more thoughts. If you have any opinions about education systems in other places of the world, please leave your opinion as to 'what makes a good education system'.

Lastly, I guess this affects me quite a lot because I think both problems apply to me, and I have properly failed in both respects (not learning properly and not developing my interests and dreams). So this is from an insider's point of view in many respects too...
I'd also like to add that this is some preparation for starting a mini project on my part, so your views will count a lot in helping me (start and) implement it. THANKS!

I look forward to hearing from you all! LEAVE A MESSAGE PLEASE! If you have any experience to share, please do!


Paul McMahon (LSA) said...

Hi Paddy,

I hope this is posted as I do not read Chinese but I agree with a lot of what you are saying here.

You might like to check my blog and see some posts on this issue as well.




Anonymous said...

I've not started my path in HK education system yet. My daughter is barely 2 years old. But everyone is telling me to enrol her in this and that, fight to get into kindergarten, fight for a good primary school and etc. I think there is nothing wrong with HK education system but the parents and the other private education system is making a big hoo haa out of this. People are afraid to lose out when other kids are taking 7 extra curriculars in a week, not including tuition. Then they blame the education system "make them" put their kids in an overscheduled lifestyle. This is absurd.

Paddy Law said...

thanks for your post. It's very true that the system can't exist in the vacuum and it largely depends on how the people cope in the system. A lot of parents are obsessed with 'the starting point', thinking that starting early and enrolling in as many ECAS as possible would show the key to fortune and success for their kids. It's becoming too competitive and unhealthy for children.

From my point of view, the problem stems from both society and the education system. Society doesn't give enough chances and opportunities for a diversity of talents and skills to flourish, but is too heavily skewed towards business and academic success. I think it's this singular definition of success that accounts, partly, for why parents and students have become so obsessed and worked up about everything related to education.

I hope your daughter will survive and thrive under your guidance. Do make sure she doesn't fall into the same pitfalls.

For me I remember I never went to any tutorials, and hardly any interest classes - but that was many years ago!

docgary said...

I found HK schools to be the worst nightmare of my entire life. I don't know if it is permissible here to mention a school's name..but needless to say-they treat foreign teachers badly, don' t explain exactly what they want and change teachers like they change socks.
I prefer China. HK education system is certainly a problem. Mostly I found them stingy and a teacher couldn't even get them to cough up a pencil or eraser or pen for that matter.

zhengjiahana said...

Hi there,

I really enjoy reading your posts about education. A lot of the things you talked about are absolutely fascinating!
Please keep sharing your ideas:)

Anonymous said...

Well I'm a student myself so I know what you mean... The system HAS a problem. On thing is that the lessons are just plain boring. No one wants to pay attention. Our only reason? Grades. I think the LESSONS have to be changed. Like they can have a lesson where you can develop your best interests?

chereen ng said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
chereen ng said...

I'm currently in secondary school in Hong Kong, and I very much agree with what you're saying that the system is failing. Where you stand in school or society are mostly based on grades or in general, the result. I feel that the education system does not drill deep enough on the ACTUAL ability of the student. One screw up can easily label you as a “failure”, whilst simply studying and reciting numbly but earning a good grade while at it, can enable you to be called “smart”. But when you actually step into the real world, can this plain, robotic method really get you that far?

Another thing is that the many extra activities parents enroll their kids to join are not for their interest or passion, half the time kids don't even enjoy these things that much anymore. Why? Because they are just doing this for future recognition.

I also agree that is it the trend of the society that affects how people think of grades. It is so serious that it's basically encouraging or even forcing people to focus that heavily on grades. Schools always say that is it what we actually learn that matters, but when the time eventually comes for them to comment on the student academically, they take no notice of that statement, which eventually, I feel, turns into a bluff. Even some teachers are ignoring this idea when encouraging students to "just recite everything and you'll do fine".

It is such a shame as, I feel, that true talents are being wasted when this belief is slow sinking into the minds of many people. Everything in life is turning into a race that people quickly, blindly, stumble to the end and seeing who reaches it first or last, while rushing past everything in between and determining the "talented' and "not-so-talented" by such belief. And more importantly, the passion and will are being sucked out of people because of this.

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