20 October 2016
It would benefit both teaching and learning if the government introduced small-class teaching to our secondary schools as soon as possible. Photo: RTHK
It would benefit both teaching and learning if the government introduced small-class teaching to our secondary schools as soon as possible. Photo: RTHK

Small-class teaching is answer to declining quality of education

Recently a job recruitment website published an advertisement for a “0.1 opening” for a secondary school geography teacher.

Those who don’t work in the education sector may not understand what a “0.1 opening” for a teacher means.

If there is such thing as a 0.1 opening, are there also 0.9, 1.1, 3.1416 openings, as well?

The advertisement quickly circulated among teachers shortly after its appearance on the internet.

Many doubted whether the advertisement was for real.

A “decimal teaching position” refers to one that is occupied by two or more teachers simultaneously.

The reason why teachers were so stunned by the “0.1 opening” is because it suggests that the teaching position in that school is shared by 10 teachers, each of the teachers getting only one-10th of the salary.

Since the monthly starting salary of a teacher with an undergraduate degree is about HK$25,000, a teacher who fills that “0.1 opening” might get only HK$2,500 a month.

The idea of a “decimal teaching position” might sound pretty far-fetched, but it is actually quite common these days.

So what’s the deal with such a weird arrangement?

The reason is simple: in spite of the heavy workload of teachers, the government refuses to increase funding for schools to hire more teachers.

As a result, many schools have no choice but to hire more than one teacher to fill a single vacancy, to share the increasing workload.

As we all know, with a shrinking birth rate, the number of school-age children in Hong Kong has continued to decline in the past decade.

As a result, many primary schools have been shut down, and many of those that remain have had to reduce the number of their classes.

The declining number of school-age children has also led to the commercialization of primary school education.

School places have become more and more like a commodity, and many primary schools are spending more energy on sales campaigns to get more students rather than teaching — which has already taken its toll on the quality of primary education.

It is time for the Education Bureau to come up with a solution to this problem, or else history will simply repeat itself in our secondary schools.

Although the number of students is declining, teachers are still struggling with ever-increasing workloads, thanks to the school curriculum reform that never seems to end and the implementation of “integrated education” in schools, which has increased the demand for student counselling services.

As far as the overall system is concerned, teachers are facing enormous pressure under strict government and school management oversight, as well as the rising demand for accountability from parents and society.

Although Hong Kong is a wealthy city, our class sizes remain as large as those of many poor regions.

Any teacher, no matter how talented or diligent he or she might be, would find it difficult to handle a class of 30 or more on a daily basis, let alone cater for the needs of each of the students, whose learning ability may vary greatly from one to another.

One-to-one teaching is almost impossible in most schools.

In order to improve their teaching quality, some schools have cut their class sizes of their own accord; for example, by dividing 120 students into five classes rather than four, but the schools themselves have to bear the extra cost of teaching staff.

In fact time is running out for remedial measures in our secondary schools, many of which are struggling to survive amid the continued decline in the number of students.

It is estimated that some schools may each have to lay off at least seven of their teachers over the next few years, accounting for one-sixth of their teaching staff, thereby further undermining the teaching quality in these schools.

To alleviate the difficulties our secondary schools are facing, the Education Bureau must adjust its policies immediately and review the existing manning quotas for teachers.

Above all, the administration should introduce small-class teaching to our secondary schools as soon as possible, which will benefit both teaching and learning.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 18.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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Legislative Council member from the education sector

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