Generation 40s – 四十世代

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教育新資源與教育市場化

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2017-05-13

梁亦華

特首選舉塵埃落定,作為教育工作者,筆者自然關注候任特首林鄭月娥的教育政策。回顧她在3月初發表的政綱,提出「教育新資源」的口號,把焦點放於增加教育資源,提出增加50億元的經常性開支,以用於訂立幼師薪級表、讓合約教師轉成常額教席等。相對起以往歷屆特首,如曾蔭權力倡的幼教學券制(2007年)、12年免費教育與小班教學(2008年),以及梁振英的15年免費教育(2012年)等只重學生的政策,林鄭月娥政綱以改善教師工作環境為主,無疑顯示了她對教師團隊的尊重。

可以預計的是,派糖派錢的保守措施,比追求嶄新發展,把人們推出舒適區(Comfort zone)的教育政策更受認同,阻力亦更少,可是近年社會上卻少有人提起,當初這些「問題」究竟從何而來:幼師為何被取消薪級表?為何會出現合約教師?事實上,兩大聘任問題的源頭,皆源於政府的教育市場化理念。

2006年,小學剛經歷了嚴峻的殺校潮,教育局為方便彈性安排人手(或曰隨時削減人手),容許學校以合約方式聘請新教師,並推出不同類型一筆過撥款,予學校聘請各類非恒常教席;2007年,政府藉推行學券計劃,取消沿用多年的「建議的幼稚園教學人員標準薪級表」,讓幼稚園直資化,幼師薪酬從此被喻為「海鮮價」。此兩項措施,反映着政府一改回歸前的管理焦點,從以往每分錢也牢牢控制的監察投入(Monitor input)改為更具彈性的監察產出(Monitor output),以各種績效指標與服務使用者的滿意度來分配資源,提升教學質素,而這亦是九十年代起政府公營部門改革(Public Sector Reform)的延伸理念。

優點顯而易見

市場化的優點是顯而易見的。在市場壓力與競爭洗禮下,教師必須回應市場需要,更關注家長所思所想,為此,近年家校溝通、社區推廣等已相繼成為各校重點工作;為保持個人競爭力,合約教師(尤其是新入職者)必須自費進修,從碩士、語文基準、到各類音體美證書等,均成為個人職場增值的比併指標。幾年之間,教師學歷在幾乎不費政府分毫的狀況下迅速提升。可以說,市場化政策在解決家校缺乏溝通、教師發展動力不足、辦學成效低下等問題上,得到空前成功。可是,這亦同時帶來一些今天耳熟能詳的新問題。

對學校而言,學校成績是績效表現的最重要指標,而TSA成績便是其一。儘管教育局多次強調TSA只作協助學校改善學與教之用,但經歷多次殺校潮後幸存下來的學校,又能否輕易相信此說法?

為了爭取最佳績效指標,一眾學校不得不把競爭壓力轉嫁至學生身上,盲目操練者有之、犧牲寒暑假補課者有之、勸退成績稍遜者告假避考有之……事實上,我們能否只向學校以績效問責,卻同時要求學校不要催谷孩子呢?此兩難正是TSA操練禁之不絕,學生壓力有增無減的原因之一。

專業角色走樣

對教師而言,社會過度重視市場需要,助長消費者至上(Consumerism)文化,已漸漸令教師與家長間的權力失衡。教師從以往專業角色,淪為教育服務提供者,部分家長則以問責姿態參與、質問、乃至干涉教師決定,並催生出「怪獸家長」的新概念。儘管這只是個別例子,但熟悉香港教育者均知道,香港教師在「市場」面前,早已無甚權威可言。

教者,上施下效也;育者,養子使作善也,教師權威的崩壞,影響的不只是學與教,而是整體社會失範(Anomie),令傳統價值、社會規範與價值觀遭到削弱、破壞乃至瓦解,這個責任是需要整個社會共同承擔的。畢竟教師救不了,便歸家長負責;若家長也教不了,便歸警察和懲教署管了。

面對現時兩大教育問題,新特首能否透過增撥教學資源予以解決?這些問題到底源於教育資源多寡?還是教育資源的分配?這也許需要更慎重的討論。儘管如此,筆者十分認同穩定教師團隊的重要性。畢竟教師是以「生命影響生命」的專業,當教師自身也朝不保夕,靈魂被市場競爭壓榨殆盡,又如何教出樂善勇敢的下一代呢?


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Opinion: Hong Kong’s science students shouldn’t be strong armed into liberal studies

Business
COMMENTARY
2017-05-03
‘The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives’

The recent report on “Science, Technology and Mathematics Education” (or the Tsui Lap Chee Report) issued by the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong finds our secondary school curriculum and university admissions criteria have under-emphasised science education, and that this will hamper prospects in the new economy.

Another education failure, not the subject of the Tsui Report, is the underinvestment in senior secondary and tertiary education for at least two decades. This has been the leading cause of our lacklustre economic performance.

Both failures should be corrected at the same time for the sake of Hong Kong’s economic future.

Domestic and foreign investments are attracted to localities where they can recruit the necessary skilled manpower. For a small open economy like Hong Kong, an abundance of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) graduates is absolutely necessary for attracting business investments in the new innovative technology economy.

Many commentators and even economists blame our failure to develop new innovative and technology industries on the government’s misguided belief in positive non-interventionism.

Much of this criticism is ideologically motivated rather than evidence based. It is not obvious that facilitating institutions and a pro-active policy to correct market failures and capital market imperfections, and provide preferential tax treatments and land subvention advantages for innovative and technology industries, can compensate for the lack of skilled manpower. The latter is a prerequisite for attracting investments in the new economy.

I subscribe to what I call the “Gobi Desert” narrative. Adopting the best institutions and policies in the middle of the Gobi Desert will not spawn new industries because no one is willing to go there to live. It will remain empty and desolate.

In Hong Kong, among the population aged 25 to 34 in 2012, only 34.7 per cent had university degrees versus 49.3 per cent in Singapore. Among those aged 35 to 44, the corresponding figures were 24.8 per cent and 40.4 per cent. Is it at all surprising that Hong Kong has lagged behind Singapore in new economy activity given our inability to attract educated and skilled workers and our failure to invest in education?

This does not mean that everyone will become a scientist, engineer or technologist. But it does mean more and more jobs will require workers to possess scientific and technological know-how. Workers in the new economy must possess an understanding of the fundamentals and principles of science and technology to engage in lifelong learning.

Government policy can address the problems of attracting skilled workers to Hong Kong but it must also address the greater challenge of developing home-grown talent.

In this regard, curriculum reform in the schools and admissions criteria of the universities should be revisited.

Nearly half of senior secondary students have no exposure to a science subject. Moreover, students taking advanced mathematics have dropped from 23 per cent in 2012, when the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) was introduced, to 14 per cent in 2016.

Moreover, over two-thirds of the students sitting the HKDSE examinations took only two electives due to overemphasis on the four core subjects—English, Chinese, mathematics, and liberal studies. Before 2012, students took on average four elective subjects outside three core subjects. The dominance of the four HKDSE core subjects crowd out electives and effectively stream students away from science.

The Tsui Report recommends trimming the core HKDSE subjects to achieve better balance between science and non-science subjects. It does not recommend which ones to trim, but liberal studies is an obvious target, which could either be dropped or changed into a pass-fail subject. This would create room for more students to pursue a balanced choice of elective subjects between science and non-science subjects.

Students showcase their all-weather electricity generator prototype during the 35th Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair held in Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Xinhua

It very sensibly recommends module flexibility for science subjects to cater for a range of aptitudes among students, and greater recognition of advanced mathematics to encourage its inclusion as a core subject.

It also calls for universities to review their admissions criteria to redress the imbalance between core and elective subjects to achieve a better balance between science and non-science subjects.

The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives. The large majority of students, especially those with self-doubt about abilities, have chosen non-science subjects in a bid to improve their public examination scores as they compete for heavily-subsidised scarce university places.

Liberal studies is often mistaken for a “liberal arts” education, which it is not. The latter is a conception of university education that covers a balance of humanities, social and natural science subjects, and generally refers to studies not relating to professional, vocational or technical education. Given this, dropping liberal studies from the HKDSE core will better prepare students that wish to pursue a “liberal arts” education.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong


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Hong Kong’s teachers can help change mindsets on science and maths degrees

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-05-08

William Pang is alarmed at students’ growing aversion to science and maths fields and says the crux of the problem seems to be that educators are failing to convince them about the diverse doors STEM degrees can open

Friends and teachers from my days at Diocesan Boys’ School would never have pinned me as an engineering major. I was mediocre at best in maths.

Which is why I was surprised to hear that many of my maths-whiz friends ended up pursuing majors in the humanities, law or medicine, rather than engineering, maths or the physical sciences.

A recent study spearheaded by Professor Tsui Lap-chee, former president of the University of Hong Kong, raised further alarm: the percentage of students taking advanced maths dropped from 23 per cent in 2012 to 14 per cent last year. But admission data shows that entry into engineering and science programmes is less competitive than for the humanities. So why are students increasingly uninterested in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields?

The crux of the problem seems to be the poor job that educators are doing in promoting and convincing students to pursue STEM degrees. A science degree does not mean ending up in a government or teaching job. Most engineering degree holders don’t become engineers, but go on to pursue diverse careers, including in law or business. Amazon head Jeff Bezos and US Secretary of State (and former ExxonMobil CEO) Rex Tillerson have engineering degrees, as do 33 per cent of CEOs.

An essential point that has been underemphasised in the STEM discourse is that an education in STEM fields can open many doors. Engineering students don’t just learn about the nuances of thermodynamic cycles, they must learn to work as a team and solve real-life problems. Science and maths students are trained to think critically, question assumptions and form hypotheses – skills that are of incredible value.

Hong Kong’s education system places too much emphasis on the idea that there is a “model answer” for every problem: which is often not the case in science and certainly not true in real life.

Educators could turn to computer programming to kindle young people’s passion for science. The beauty of programming is that there are many approaches to tackle a single problem, which requires students to think laterally and devise creative solutions.

Educators across all levels of schooling play a role in shaping the perception of STEM fields – whether it is the primary school teacher who sparks a student’s sense of curiosity, the middle school teacher who instils a love for science, or the college professor who convinces an undergraduate student to take part in research.

Unless there’s a cultural shift in the way we approach science education, Hong Kong students will soon find themselves trailing behind the international competition.

William Pang is an engineering student at McGill University


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Opinion: Hong Kong’s science students shouldn’t be strong armed into liberal studies

South China Morning Post
Business
COMMENTARY
2017-05-03

Richard Wong
‘The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives’

The recent report on “Science, Technology and Mathematics Education” (or the Tsui Lap Chee Report) issued by the Academy of Sciences of Hong Kong finds our secondary school curriculum and university admissions criteria have under-emphasised science education, and that this will hamper prospects in the new economy.

Another education failure, not the subject of the Tsui Report, is the underinvestment in senior secondary and tertiary education for at least two decades. This has been the leading cause of our lacklustre economic performance.

Both failures should be corrected at the same time for the sake of Hong Kong’s economic future.

Domestic and foreign investments are attracted to localities where they can recruit the necessary skilled manpower. For a small open economy like Hong Kong, an abundance of science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) graduates is absolutely necessary for attracting business investments in the new innovative technology economy.

Many commentators and even economists blame our failure to develop new innovative and technology industries on the government’s misguided belief in positive non-interventionism.

Much of this criticism is ideologically motivated rather than evidence based. It is not obvious that facilitating institutions and a pro-active policy to correct market failures and capital market imperfections, and provide preferential tax treatments and land subvention advantages for innovative and technology industries, can compensate for the lack of skilled manpower. The latter is a prerequisite for attracting investments in the new economy.

I subscribe to what I call the “Gobi Desert” narrative. Adopting the best institutions and policies in the middle of the Gobi Desert will not spawn new industries because no one is willing to go there to live. It will remain empty and desolate.
It very sensibly recommends module flexibility for science subjects to cater for a range of aptitudes among students

In Hong Kong, among the population aged 25 to 34 in 2012, only 34.7 per cent had university degrees versus 49.3 per cent in Singapore. Among those aged 35 to 44, the corresponding figures were 24.8 per cent and 40.4 per cent. Is it at all surprising that Hong Kong has lagged behind Singapore in new economy activity given our inability to attract educated and skilled workers and our failure to invest in education?

This does not mean that everyone will become a scientist, engineer or technologist. But it does mean more and more jobs will require workers to possess scientific and technological know-how. Workers in the new economy must possess an understanding of the fundamentals and principles of science and technology to engage in lifelong learning.

Government policy can address the problems of attracting skilled workers to Hong Kong but it must also address the greater challenge of developing home-grown talent.

In this regard, curriculum reform in the schools and admissions criteria of the universities should be revisited.

Nearly half of senior secondary students have no exposure to a science subject. Moreover, students taking advanced mathematics have dropped from 23 per cent in 2012, when the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) was introduced, to 14 per cent in 2016.

Moreover, over two-thirds of the students sitting the HKDSE examinations took only two electives due to overemphasis on the four core subjects—English, Chinese, mathematics, and liberal studies. Before 2012, students took on average four elective subjects outside three core subjects. The dominance of the four HKDSE core subjects crowd out electives and effectively stream students away from science.

The Tsui Report recommends trimming the core HKDSE subjects to achieve better balance between science and non-science subjects. It does not recommend which ones to trim, but liberal studies is an obvious target, which could either be dropped or changed into a pass-fail subject. This would create room for more students to pursue a balanced choice of elective subjects between science and non-science subjects.

It very sensibly recommends module flexibility for science subjects to cater for a range of aptitudes among students, and greater recognition of advanced mathematics to encourage its inclusion as a core subject.

It also calls for universities to review their admissions criteria to redress the imbalance between core and elective subjects to achieve a better balance between science and non-science subjects.

The inclusion of liberal studies might have stemmed from noble intentions to train critical thinking, but the skills learned are more compatible with non-science than science electives. The large majority of students, especially those with self-doubt about abilities, have chosen non-science subjects in a bid to improve their public examination scores as they compete for heavily-subsidised scarce university places.

Liberal studies is often mistaken for a “liberal arts” education, which it is not. The latter is a conception of university education that covers a balance of humanities, social and natural science subjects, and generally refers to studies not relating to professional, vocational or technical education. Given this, dropping liberal studies from the HKDSE core will better prepare students that wish to pursue a “liberal arts” education.

Richard Wong is the Philip Wong Kennedy Wong Professor in Political Economy at the University of Hong Kong


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Carrie Lam must have a clear vision for Hong Kong education

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-04-03
Kerry Kennedy says the city’s schooling system needs to be transformed, from early childhood learning through to university, to provide the foundation for the renewal of Hong Kong as a whole
Chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has promised Hong Kong more funding for education. However, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has made it that clear funding is not always the answer to an education system’s woes.Abandoning the Territory-wide System Assessment or inserting Chinese history into the core curriculum are also not the answer: they represent tinkering and pandering to populist prescriptions.

What is needed is a clear vision to move Hong Kong forward at a time of considerable volatility and uncertainty.

What needs to be faced is that the education reforms which started in 2001 have played their role in seeking to transform the system to meet 21st-century needs.

They started with great support from then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa but languished as successive chief executives delegated and forgot about education. They funded it but did not care for it. This is an important lesson for Lam: she must set the direction, monitor it and constantly refresh it. There will be a new secretary, but it is the chief executive who should set out and carry the vision. There are significant challenges.

Some progress has been made on making early childhood education more accessible and this is an important achievement. But, from now on, the issue of teacher quality must take priority, so that children have access to the best teachers. This means the early years’ curriculum must be carefully crafted so it is not just maths, Chinese and English. It needs to encourage creativity and problem-solving, so children make a start on developing lifelong learning skills. A consensus needs to be built about the direction of this, now widely accessible, early childhood education.

The curriculum of primary and secondary schools must also be carefully considered. “Key learning areas” were part of the 2001 reforms. But are they still useful? Science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects are now considered very important but are lacking in the current curriculum.

Historical, geographical and ­cultural understanding need to be better incorporated into the curriculum. Civic and citizenship education can’t continue to be neglected or left up to individual schools. ­Future citizens need to understand their rights and responsibilities and see the value of constructive ­engagement in the city’s affairs.

The city’s universities, most of which feature in top international rankings, must be given a freer hand to manage their affairs. The dead hand of bureaucracy needs to be ­removed. They do not need to be micromanaged around narrow sets of expected outcomes and performance indicators.

At the same time, young people need greater access to government-funded institutions: Singapore currently provides 40 per cent of the age cohort with access to university education while Korea provides the same for 80 per cent. This compares with just 18 per cent in Hong Kong.

Previous administrations have sought to build up private provision of higher education, thus forsaking their public responsibilities to ­develop an educated and caring ­citizenry. By all means develop the private sector, but as an adjunct to – not a substitute for – a thriving, innovative and leading-edge public sector with public responsibilities for the future welfare of the city.

There is currently no coordinating body that views education in an integrated fashion across all sectors. The Education Commission has served this function for the schooling sector, the University Grants Committee tries to do it for the university sector. But while recommendations have been made for a separate body to oversee the private education sector, no thought has been given to oversight of the early childhood sector. This results in a fragmented education system in which territory is protected, a common vision is avoided, and over which bureaucrats can rule without interference from either politicians or the public.

It is time for a Hong Kong education council with a brief for vision development and strategic thinking. The new chief executive must lead this council on behalf of the people and on behalf of the future. Education is not a bureaucratic area to be delegated: it is a strategic area on which Hong Kong’s future rests.

Across all sectors of education, teachers are the central players – supporting students’ learning and liaising with parents, with some rising through the ranks to lead schools. These schools can provide the foundations for renewal in Hong Kong.

A new education vision can bind a society through enunciating its common values and commitments. This process can start with the new chief executive embracing education as the key area of her ­administration. This would be a strong signal to the community that Hong Kong can rise again, with an educated and intelligent citizenry ready to face the future.

Professor Kerry Kennedy is a senior research fellow in the Centre for Governance and Citizenship at The Education University of Hong Kong