Over the past 10 years or so, reduction of classes in primary and secondary schools, as well as widespread school shutdowns, have dealt an enormous blow to Hong Kong’s education sector.
Continued volatility in schools has led to a crisis, where teachers have to struggle with highly excessive workloads as well as new demands arising from policy initiatives such as integrated education and continuing education.
As a result, even well-trained and well-intentioned teachers would often find themselves completely overwhelmed and exhausted, which makes it impossible for them to facilitate smooth and effective school education.
Hong Kong’s current leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has vowed to drastically improve the education landscape, which is certainly a good thing.
But good intentions by the government could still lead to bad results, as we have already learnt it the hard way in the past.
Given that, I proposed a “two-phase” strategy last year on education reforms: in Phase 1, emphasis should be placed on promoting “stabilization” and “stress reduction”, while in Phase 2, the government can start fostering “sustainable development”.
In fact Lam already raised the issue of “stabilization” of the education sector back in her chief executive election campaign in 2017.
The question is, how exactly can we achieve “stabilization” and “stress reduction”?
To answer that, I recently released a written proposal which pertains to expectations on education in relation to the 2018 Policy Address. In that, I suggested three key measures to stabilize the education sector and reduce the stress upon students. They are:
1. Raising the class-teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools; 2. Tearing down the constraints on students’ learning; and 3. Enhancing oversight of the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) test or scrapping the arrangement under which an entire cohort of a school will have to sit for the test.
In particular, I have given priority to raising the current class-teacher ratios in the schools.
As mentioned above, our teachers are being overwhelmed by unreasonably excessive workloads.
To address the pressing issue, initiatives to boost manpower in the schools and measures to help teachers cut down on their workloads must go hand in hand.
As far as boosting school manpower is concerned, there is a consensus among members of the education sector that each class should be given an additional 0.3 regular manning quotas.
Boosting the teacher-to-class ratio can trigger a lot of positive changes.
For example, it can not only reduce the heavy workloads the teachers are currently facing, it can also enable them to stay more focused on teaching the subjects in which they were trained, as well as allowing more electives to be offered at schools.
Besides, increasing the proportion of teachers to classes in the schools can allow more young teachers who are now being hired on a contract basis to become regular employees, a development that would definitely benefit our school education in many ways.
The extreme measures of massive reduction of classes and school shutdowns over the past decade have taken a heavy toll on both the stability of the education ecosystem and the morale of teachers.
To enhance the stability of the school system, the government should implement full-scale small class teaching across local primary schools as quickly as it can, and freeze the ongoing teaching staff cutbacks in secondary schools.
Meanwhile, the Education Bureau (EDB) should adopt the approach of cutting down school places allocation in a “district-based” fashion in response to the demographic differences among the various districts in Hong Kong.
Apart from measures aimed at boosting the stability of schools and teachers, it is equally important to reduce study-related stress on students.
An area of particular concern is the stress brought by the TSA test upon Primary 3 students.
Given the fact that the EDB has refused to scrap the TSA test for good this year, I urge the administration to enhance oversight of it, and take decisive action to remove the arrangement under which the entire Primary 3 cohort of a school will have to write the test, if the problem of over-drilling in class continues to worsen.
In short, the chief executive should achieve the two targets of stabilization and stress-reduction in the school system over the next four years. If she fails to do that, the education crisis will only escalate further.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 24
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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