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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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


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No Carrie, education doesn’t need more money. It needs less

Business
COMMENTARY
2017-03-30

[Chief executive-elect Carrie) Lam said she would discuss her plan to inject an additional HK$5 billion into education with lawmakers from across the political spectrum in the coming three months …

— SCMP, March 28

I entirely agree with this plan provided we make one small adjustment in the statement above. Let’s change the words “with lawmakers” to “for lawmakers”. They could use some education.

It’s otherwise a waste, and worse than a waste.

The chart tells the story. Twenty years ago, the number of job holders with a degree from a tertiary institute of education was pretty much matched on the job rolls with the number of managers, administrators and professionals, the people who might need a degree in their work.

Then again, a good number of them might not have needed that degree. The best administrator under whom I ever worked never went to university. He joined the army instead. And, no, he never gave us orders. He led.

None of the other occupation categories our statisticians list require degrees. Associate professional is a fancy word for technician, and then come clerical, service, sales and craft workers. Ordinary secondary education will do along with on-the-job training, plus a better dress sense than any university can teach.

But there was a rough match between degree holders and degree needers 20 years ago. Get yourself a degree — outside of it being one in fine arts and flower arranging — you could be pretty sure of putting that degree to work in the job market.

Not now. More than 30 per cent of job holders now have degrees, up from 12 per cent 20 years ago, and, as the chart shows, we have 440,000 more degree holders than we have jobs in management, administration and the professions.

How many years of education does it take to walk the aisles of an Airbus and say, “Chicken or vegetarian, sir? We’ve run out of the beef option.” Count yourself lucky if it is what you can do with a degree these days.

There is indeed such a thing as too much of a good thing and education is an excellent example of it just now.

When you put more money into formal education for a population that is already formally educated beyond its needs you do not get more or better educated people, but only people who are seriously stressed out.

They have wasted the best years of their lives in classroom boredom, are often heavily burdened by debt and the only way to make something of it is to throw even more good years after bad in an academic scramble over the heads of their classmates. A bachelor’s degree will no longer do. It must be a master’s now.

I find it ironic, that within one paragraph of our Tuesday mention of Carrie’s HK$5 billion education plan, our report stated that “one of the most agreeable subjects will be the abolition of a Primary Three compulsory test that is widely seen as a burden on children, parents and teachers.”

Poor kids. Whatever is abolished, that HK$5 billion promises an even worse burden yet of competitive pressure. If you want to relieve children’s burdens, Carrie, I suggest fining any school that permits its pupils to carry more than five kilograms in their schoolbags.

Yes, I agree there is more to learning than getting a good job. But how did this odd notion arise that it can only be done in a classroom? In fact, how much real learning is done in classrooms at all, when it largely consists of scoring points on tests that measure your ability to memorise artificial distinctions?

Education does not need more money. It needs less.


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Should Hong Kong ban spanking of children at home as well as in school?

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-01-13
Yonden Lhatoo looks at how France has made corporal punishment of children illegal and compares it with Hong Kong, which is unlikely to make such a move

Buried under the daily barrage of bad news, there was a recent report that did not resonate much in this part of the world but I found it quite intriguing, nonetheless: you’re officially no longer allowed  to spank your children in France.

The fine print took some of the gee whiz out of the news, as it turns out that France is only the 52nd country in the world to take such a step. Sweden is quantum leaps ahead of everyone, having started in 1979.

Also, bear in mind that the new law in France is more symbolic than draconian, as offenders will not face criminal punishment. That’s in a country where 85 per cent of parents smack their children and are likely to carry on doing it, although a tad more discreetly from now on, perhaps.

What about Hong Kong? Just the other day, I watched another exemplar of the eternal conflict between misbehaving child and frustrated parent play out in a shopping mall. “Just wait until we get home,” the mother warned as her little princeling shook the rafters with a thunderous tantrum over some abruptly cancelled visit to Toys ‘R’ Us.

It reminded me of “somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad”, the trademark quote that Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters attributes to his father in his classic stand-up routine on parenting.

Peters jokingly recalls his father’s response when threatened with a phone call to Children’s Aid for beating his kid: “I might get into a little bit of trouble, but I know that it’s going to take them 23 minutes to get here. In that time, somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad!”

Not many children are getting “a-hurt real bad” by their parents in Hong Kong, where the English common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” applies, and corporal punishment at home is allowed. But a 2015 survey found that about half of the city’s children, aged six to 13, were physically disciplined by their parents, who used bare hands as well as handy implements like clothes hangers and rulers to inflict punitive pain.

Our city has banned corporal punishment in schools since 1991, but resisted calls by concern groups to extend the ban to homes. That’s unlikely to change, as Hong Kong is a traditional society on the whole and the conservative mindset prevails in such matters.

I tend to agree with the school ban. With all due respect to decent teachers, it’s totally understandable that most parents don’t and won’t trust strangers, qualified or not, to lay hands on their children.

Most of the teachers during my own schooldays were decent educators, but I haven’t forgotten a few who went beyond the usual ruler rap on the knuckles to what would only be described as criminal assault these days. They would be behind bars if they did that now, for sure. The philosophy of “spare the rod and save the child” does not entail crippling the child with said rod.

A study last year by the American Journal of Family Psychology analysed five decades of research involving more than 160,000 children to conclude that the more we spank our kids, the more likely they are to defy us. They’re also more prone to antisocial behaviour, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, apparently.

Like many of my friends and contemporaries, I wasn’t spared the rod myself growing up, both at home and school, but we like to look back and think it made us a little broader-shouldered and thicker-skinned than Generation Snowflake these days.

After all, as Immanuel Kant once said, “Man must be disciplined, for he is by nature raw and wild.”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post


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Free kindergarten education in Hong Kong is a welcome step towards language equality in class

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-08-17

Alfred Chan

Alfred Chan says new policy support will strike at practices that discriminate against ethnic minority students, but government monitoring is needed

Since taking up the chairmanship of the Equal Opportunities Commission in April, I have emphasised my commitment to advancing equal opportunities for marginalised and underprivileged groups in society. One such group is ethnic minorities. Of particular concern are their education and employment opportunities. I recently heard the case of a Pakistani mother who went to a local kindergarten to get an admission form for her son. She spoke to a staff member through the intercom from outside the gate. After checking if either parent spoke Cantonese, which they did not, the staff member declined to give her a form. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Many ethnic minority parents have to knock on several kindergarten doors before finding a place.

Education Bureau figures for 2015-16 show that 44 per cent of kindergartens do not have non-Chinese-speaking students, while ethnic minority students are concentrated in a small number of kindergartens where the environment is less conducive to Chinese learning. We have been notified that more than a few practise one of several measures that prevent ethnic minority students from enjoying access to equal education opportunities. Some reportedly flatly refuse to admit ethnic minority children. Others choose to conduct interviews for applicants only in Cantonese or provide information exclusively in Chinese. Not only is this tarnishing Hong Kong’s image as a diverse, inclusive society, but the act may also be unlawful.

We have called on kindergartens to be open and inclusive in their admissions. Recently, we launched a booklet for schools, parents and students on promoting racial integration and preventing racial discrimination in schools. It provides essential guidelines, besides examples and suggestions, on the application of the Race Discrimination Ordinance in schools, particularly in the areas of language requirements in admissions, exercise of school rules with respect to religious practices and communication with ethnic minority parents.

Kindergartens justify their admission decision by citing the unavailability of language support for non-Chinese-speaking students in their schools. We don’t expect this justification to be valid for long. The government announced in the policy address the extension of the current 12 years of free education to 15 years, by introducing free kindergarten education from the 2017-18 academic year. We welcome the move.

Of particular interest to us is that the policy of free kindergarten education also includes support for children with diverse needs, which includes non-Chinese speakers and children with special educational needs. We believe both categories would benefit from the additional support. Non-Chinese speakers will gain substantially from any scheme that encourages kindergartens to integrate them into classes with their Chinese peers. As scholars point out, an integrated classroom has many benefits, including language acquisition. This is a significant benefit, especially given the dire state of Chinese language learning among non-Chinese-speaking students.

The Education Bureau should carefully monitor the implementation of the new policy to ensure fair admissions and adequate support for Chinese language learning, so more mainstream kindergartens are encouraged to admit non-Chinese speakers. It should also keep an eye out for inadvertent reverse segregation that may result. Some kindergartens might choose to take in more ethnic minority students due to the additional funding, which may lead to a rising concentration of non-Chinese-speaking students, again creating a ”segregated” environment.

An immersed classroom supported by additional language learning measures is expected to lead to non-Chinese speakers “mainstreaming” early in their school lives, thereby having a greater possibility of being on a par with their Chinese peers at the end of 15 years. That ideally should lead to a levelling of the playing field when it comes to access to higher education and finally employment. That will be the true test of whether Hong Kong actually lives up to its promise of providing equal opportunities to all, regardless of race, language or colour.

Professor Alfred C.M. Chan is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission