Ever since she took office in July last year, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has made sure that education remains on top of her policy agenda.
For example, shortly after she moved into her current post, Lam allocated an additional recurrent expenditure of HK$3.6 billion into education in order to improve teaching staff entitlement arrangements and on initiatives such as subsidizing the tuition fees of students enrolled in self-financing undergraduate programs provided by tertiary education institutions, and allowing schools to hire their own special educational needs coordinators (SENCOs), etc.
Then in her latest policy address last month, the chief executive committed another HK$4.7 billion in recurrent expenditure to education. In other words, so far an additional HK$8.3 billion has been diverted into education in the form of recurrent spending.
Compared to the previous governments, the current administration is relying a lot more heavily on recurrent expenditure rather than on one-off funding to resolve the education issues, which is definitely a profound step in the right direction.
It is because non-recurrent measures can alleviate the problems faced by schools in the short run.
However, once the funding is used up, the measures would often have to stop immediately, and the extra staff hired would be laid off. As a result, despite all the money spent and all the efforts made, everything is back to square one.
Education is about the nurturing of talent, and is a long-term social investment. Sadly, the fact is that in the past education policymakers were often obsessed with achieving quick results, This has taken a heavy toll on the local education sector over the past 10 years or so.
In particular, the massive class reductions and school shutdowns experienced by primary schools over the past decade have proven the saddest chapter in the history of the city’s education reforms.
And things went from bad to worse during the time of the former chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. As society became polarized and divided, the development of school education ground to a halt, even as other places in the region were investing in their school education at full throttle.
Luckily, over the last two years, the administration under Lam has demonstrated resolve to make a long-term commitment to improving the learning and teaching environment in the schools by stepping up recurrent expenditure on education.
Moreover, the current administration is extremely willing to listen to the views of members of Hong Kong’s education sector and answer their calls.
I believe the Lam government deserves credit for not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk on education.
While it is my sincere hope that Lam and her education officials can stay the course in supporting school education, I would like to propose a two-stage strategy in improving both the teaching and learning environments in our schools.
The stage-one strategy refers to initiatives to stabilize our teachers, to tear down the existing constraints on teaching and learning in the classrooms, and to stabilize the entire school system.
In particular, the Education Bureau (EDB) must continue to reduce the study and work-related stress on students and teachers, so that teachers can stay more focused on teaching and the students can also be given better support and care.
Once the stage-one strategy is on course and on schedule, the EDB can embark on the stage-two strategy, focusing on aims such as facilitating sustainable development of the education sector, improving the quality of public education, promoting professional development among the teachers and developing a multiple articulation pathways for students who intend to pursue further study, with a view to benefiting both students and society as much as possible.
Here I would like to call upon my fellow educators to help translate the government’s whole-hearted support for the education sector into solid backing for frontline teachers, so as to enable the teachers to do a better job and take better care of the students.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 13
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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