Rev. Dr KWOK Nai Wang
MAIN ARGUMENTSSchool education contributes little to the overall social development in Asia although it raises the competitiveness of hundreds and thousands of youngsters. The major reason is that education is pretty much controlled by government which in turn is deeply influenced by big business. Both governments and the business community expect schools to produce the kind of young people they want, namely hard-working technocrats who should be creative, but at the same time obedient to those in power.
However education should not be a tool to those in authority. It should be for the development of persons. It should help individuals to grow and to live a dignified and full life. Education should not be about books and skills, tests and examinations; it should be about providing opportunities for youngsters to discover their own uniqueness; opportunities to explore the purpose and deeper meaning of their life so that eventually their potentials will be more fully realized.
Education can contribute to genuine social reform by helping people to expand their horizons and become more caring people. Only caring persons can bring about a caring community which should be the end result for all social change.
But first, education must be free from the bondage of government and the business community. Autonomy is the key to education reform. Instead of relying on financial support by government and big business, for example, tertiary education institutions should look for support from alumni and community. Community participation and support are vital. These will only come if academics decide to be also practioners and get themselves involved in community struggles.
Educators should never underestimate the blocks created by parents. In engaging in education reform, parents must be fully involved so that they can be turned from a liability to an asset.
Increasingly, many Asian nations want to compete with the Western nations and therefore spare no efforts to develop tertiary education. Sadly, they tend to overlook the foundational stage of education. Pre-school education as well as primary school education are keys to personal development!
In final analysis, teachers hold the key to education reform. Instead of devoting all energy in teaching subject matter, teachers should spend more time and energy to care and to nurture their students so that not only do their students have an open mind, but more importantly a big heart. Instead of teaching their students to be successful professionals, teachers should develop their students to be responsible citizens.
This is no small task to teachers. Teachers at all levels should take their work most seriously and be ready to make a personal sacrifice. For teaching is not just a job or a career, but it is a vocation.
Education, especially school education, should devote its full attention to the development of persons. It is only in such a way that genuine social change will come about and that humanness be preserved or even enhanced.
FULL TEXTI. Do Existing Education Patterns Enhance Overall Development In Asia?
It is generally believed that in order to get rid of poverty in Asia, governments and the general public must invest more in education, especially in tertiary education. Education is the answer for the overall development in Asia.
But as we look deeper, we might come up with a different conclusion. As the people in Asia, on the whole become more educated, many more people become poorer. At the same time, the rich and poor gap becomes even more widened.
In Hong Kong, for instance, in 1960, there was only one university. The intake of first degree students was 350. In 2000, there were eight universities. There were 145,000 admissions to the first degree courses. This represents a rise of more than 40 times, a remarkable achievement indeed.
However, according to the gini-coefficient, an index used to measure the gap between the rich and the poor, it was less than 3.5 in 1960. It jumped to close to 5.3 in 2000. In fact, the rich-poor gap has now almost reach a boiling point.
After Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the new Special Administrative Region Government has vowed to put education in the top priority. To combat the unemployment problem resulting from the Asian economic meltdown in 1997-1998, the government has spent billions of Hong Kong dollars on retraining, on improving the English standards of secondary students (a measure to improve on Hong Kong’s competitiveness) and so on.
All this did not retard the rapid increase of the rich-poor gap. As a matter of fact, of the 10% lowest paid workers in Hong Kong, each received HK$4,000 (or US$500) per month in 1997. It became HK$3,300 (US$420), a drop of 30%! While for the 10% highest salaried people in Hong Kong, in 1997, each received a monthly pay cheque of HK$63,000 (US$8,000). In 2000, this was increased to HK$70,000 (US$8,750), or an increase of ten percent.
Why is education and social development not in a direct proportionate relationship? Is there something drastically wrong with education?
There is no doubt that education can help to raise the competitive power of the few who have the opportunity for higher education. By and large university graduates are guaranteed better jobs and better pay. I served in a parish in a slum area in Hong Kong for 12 years in the 1960s and 1970s. I have personally witnessed how several of my parishioners escaped poverty after they struggled hard to gain a university degree.
Education in Asia, especially its higher education, is greatly influenced by the West. Most of the Asian educators got their PhDs from universities in North America and Europe (a few from Australia and New Zealand). It cannot therefore escape from the impact of the western concept of education.
Very generally, education in the West emphasizes on the imparting of knowledge and skills. It is based on the assumption that power and might can ultimately solve all problems. The West also champions individual rights and freedoms. Hence personal benefits are much more important than corporate responsibility and human relationship which have been treasured in Asia for thousands of years. No wonder many Asians now consider education is a tool to help them or their children to climb the social ladder.
Education in Asia is largely controlled by the government authorities. They pay (though with money from tax payers) and they set all policies and guide lines.
Since 1978, nine years of compulsory and free education as well as four years of subsidized education were introduced in Hong Kong. In 1990-1991, the total bill came up to be HK$3.496 billion (or US$440 million). It jumped to HK$11.914 billion (or US$1.5 billion) in 2000-2001.
It is even more expensive in tertiary education. Nowadays, the average cost per university student is HK$200,000 (US$25,000) per annum. More than 80% of this amount is funded by the government. Because of the huge amounts involved, over the years government authorities have introduced more and more stringent monitoring and accountability measures. Naturally all this dampens creativity.
Furthermore, when education is so tightly controlled by the government bureaucracies, it becomes the most important tool for the ruling class.In Hong Kong, schools (from kindergartens to secondary schools) pay a great deal of attention to students’ discipline (headmasters and headmistresses like to call it school discipline). Students are taught first of all to be obedient to authorities. They should never challenge decisions made by those in authority. Consequently in the past 160 years, those in power, especially those in government authorities, whatever their governance and performance, were never seriously questioned. That explains how the archaic political system is able to be maintained up to today.
Then, students are taught to study diligently. This is the only way to pass examinations with good grades. With good grades, they can go to any university, taking whichever course of their choice. Later, when they graduate with high honours, they are guaranteed well-paid jobs. If they continue to work hard, they can enjoy promising promotion prospects. With such emphasis on school discipline, forcing students to study hard and behave properly, students’ independent thinking and creativity are suppressed.
Incidentally, secondary school teachers complain a great deal in recent years that their students’ academic standards are down and that they have to spend a good bit of their time to deal with serious behaviour problems of their students. Perhaps this is an indictment of the existing school education in Hong Kong; the more oppressive to the students, the more resistance from the students!
Those in authorities use education as a major stabilising force in society. They expect schools at all levels to help their society to produce useful leaders who in turn, will help them to maintain the status quo. Hence young people in Hong Kong are taught to be selfish, constantly thinking of how to enhance their advancement prospects. There is little room for them to consider wider concerns, such as how to better serve those in need; how to improve on the welfare of the community as a whole and no room to explore questions such as what life is all about?
Asia in general is dominated by big business which in turn dominates the direction and content of education. It is often considered that in Asia, governments primarily serve business people. So is education.
In Hong Kong, for instance, over the past 160 years, the direction and content of education were dictated by market needs. For example, in the 1970s, universities were preoccupied with assisting the business community in the production of the professionals they needed, such as lawyers, architects, engineers and doctors.
In the 1980s, when Hong Kong’s economy began to evolve from industrial and tourist to commercial and banking, universities concentrate to develop its business management courses. In the 1990s, it was all sorts of computer studies and information technologies. As a result of this practical orientation in universities, it ignores content-wise the teaching of fine arts and courses related to humanities.
This utilitarian thinking in education is also greatly affecting high school education in Hong Kong. Despite financial resources are always difficult to come by, because the authorities want the secondary school students to master the computer well before they graduate, abundance of computers are provided to every secondary school. Some of the principals told me that their school cannot use all the computers they were given, so some of the computers were put in the school corridors. The big push in computer use in schools is an important contributor towards a decline of language standards in both English and Chinese in Hong Kong.
In most Asian nations, the education system is definitely dominated by the business mindset. One of the major considerations of the business community is profits. Business people are obsessed with their own interests, so much so that they often ignore the public interests or worse still many a time they will seek for their own interests at the expense of the public interests. In Hong Kong most of the business people are looking at short-term investments only. They expect to have their total investment in full return within five years. Education cannot bring about tangible profits/results. It is against all education principles for educators to seek a fast return. There is a Chinese saying, "It takes ten years to grow a tree, but a hundred years to educate a person."
Like the business tycoons, education authorities all over Asia are obsessed with numbers. In Hong Kong, the Chief Executive wants to catch up on Singapore in tertiary education. So he and his education chief decreed recently that in two decades, the number of youngsters who can receive tertiary education should be increased from the existing 20% to 60%. In order to have this quick fix materialized, the education authorities said that the government will spend in the next 10 years HK$1.9 billion (US$240 million) to request all 8 universities to develop "associate degrees" (a two-year program).
Many academics have raised serious doubts about this approach – basically it is a cheap way to help 60% of the youngsters to get a degree of some sort by the year 2020. Necessarily, associate degrees rely almost exclusively on course work which in turn rely heavily on part-time teachers. Course work is at best a small part of education. Education depends heavily on the interaction of students with teachers. At the present moment, because of the ever increasing workload of teachers, they are spending less and less time with their students. By concentrating so much on the increase of numbers – and youngsters are human beings, not numbers – the quality of education definitely suffers. It is only a myth that with quantity, quality will come.
Education authorities somehow are intrigued by the way businesses are run. So the education authorities in Hong Kong are now demanding all schools observe strictly the cost-effectiveness principle. Schools are now asked to increase their values by making sure that the grades of their students improve year after year. It is pathetic that education is reduced to this kind of measurement.
The overall social development in Asia is often controlled by the people who hold the economic as well as political power. These powerful people consider social development is equivalent to economic development. Furthermore, they tend to reduce economic development as simply economic growth.
In China, for example, throughout the early 1990s, the GDP growth was in double digits. Even after the Asian economic downturn, it still maintains 7% or 8% per annum. But the gap between the rich in the big cities along the coastline and the poor in the out-West rural areas is phenomenal. Abject poverty abounds in some of those rural areas. This is one good example showing there is no genuine economic development if the issue of distribution of resources and wealth was ignored.
Similarly, Japan did extremely well in the 1970s and 1980s on economic growth. Its government paid some attention regarding the distribution of wealth generated. That explains why that the poverty problem as well as the rich-poor gap problem were not as serious as in many other Asian nations. However, Japan has not done enough in its overall social development in those years. Japan is now facing the longest spell of economic downturn since the Second World War. It is mainly because of its weak social fabrics.
On the contrary, in some nations in Northern Europe, Finland, for example, overall social development is always emphasized. They tend to have much stronger societies.
As the rich and powerful view education as a tool to economic growth only, education has become a culprit in creating highly unjust societies all over Asia. Unless it is radically changed, education will continue to be a stumbling block for social change in Asia.
II. Ultimately Education Is For Personal Development
The original meaning and purpose of education is not to serve the interests of governments nor big businesses. It is not even for social change. Education is for the development of persons.
People are the most important asset in any society. In fact, societies are constituted by people. They depend on people to contribute, to keep them running.
It is often said that whatever the people, whatever the society. In any given society, if people adopt the "everybody for themselves" mindset, that society will be a rather closed society.
In an open society, we must have people with open minds. They should care for the common good more than their self gain. This is what education is all about. Education helps people to have open minds. It helps people to care not only for themselves, but also for others as well.
If ultimately, education is for personal development. What then is a person? Traditionally in China, a person is considered to be wholesome if he/she has high moral standards, is intellectually capable, has a healthy body, can relate to others and has the ability to appreciate whatever is beautiful. In ancient China, in order to train such a person, youngsters were taught six subjects, viz. rituals and manners, music, archery, horse-riding, ancient books as well as mathematics.
In modern China, there were basically five components in primary and secondary education. These five areas of education aimed to give each young person a well-balanced education. They included moral education, intellectual education, physical education, social education and aesthetic education. Courses were designed to fit into one of these five areas of education. Thus for example, arithmetic is a part of intellectual education; painting and music form the core of aesthetic education. But because of the rapid increase of natural sciences which have to be fitted into the school curriculum, the traditional patterns of school education in China had to give way.
While the West has concentrated to develop students’ knowledge, rationality as well as individuality in its education approach, the East has always emphasized on students’ emotions and feelings, intuitive power, human relationships, the importance of the collective, the family and the clan. It would be ideal to look at these two lists and try our best to combine them. For in itself, neither list would be able to help educators to develop people into whole persons.
Asia is generally known as the land of spirits. Traditionally Asians on the whole highly treasure spirituality. Spirituality cannot be considered as anti-materialism, anti-secularization or anti-West. It merely affirms that there is yet another dimension other than the physical dimension of beings. For example, most people enjoy material comforts. But their willingness and efforts to assist young brothers and sisters to have enough to eat, warm clothes and a safe shelter certainly will heighten their joy and satisfaction. To eat is a physical act. It sustains our body. But to enable those who have no food to have something to eat is a spiritual act. Spirituality enables us to ask deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of life.
A spiritual person is not interested to seek for material comforts. He/she has a keen sense to detach himself/herself from positions, status, power, privileges and wealth. There is an old Chinese saying, "When people have reached that stage of detachment, their character would have been fully developed." Education must seek to nurture people so that they all become persons with impeccable character.
In modern times, the world has come to realize that all human beings are priceless and born with capabilities to develop. Therefore, one of the most important functions of education is to help students to draw out their own potentials and each one of them developing into a full human being.
The present pattern of education is going towards the opposite direction. It concentrates on filling students with knowledge, oftentimes pseudo-knowledge. It is pseudo because it is conceptual, quite unrelated to the daily life. It is pseudo because teachers have not thought through what it is all about. They merely repeat what others have said before.
This kind of knowledge-based education pressurizes students to memorize what has been taught, and then be able to repeat in tests and examinations: the more accurate they can repeat, the higher grades they can get. Hence students’ success is mainly determined by passing examinations with good grades.
This kind of reduction in education certainly will not help in the overall personal development. With so much time spent in cramming knowledge to students, little or no time will be given to students to explore and to think. This greatly dampens creativity. Book-learning and study for tests and examinations also greatly discourage students to read widely.
Education is for the development of a person, or personal development. "Personal" implies that people have the qualities such as independence and uniqueness. Education enables students to learn to be independent, forming their own ideas and judgment, dare to stand up to say what they think rather than to hide behind the crowd or follow the authorities and echo whatever these people say.
Traditionally, Asia is extremely authoritarian. The emerging generation is expected to be obedient to their elders who are the symbols of authority. In some cases, people are treated by those in authority as their objects of servitude. In other words, those in authority subconsciously believe that the masses exist primarily to serve their interests and greed. On the other hand, people want to survive and do well, they have to learn to kowtow to those in authority. People must do everything possible to please the authorities, or at least not to do anything to offend the authorities. This greatly distorts people’s dignity. People will then become less than full human beings.
Today in Asia, a great many young people feel that they are being pressurized in schools as well as in society. Sooner or later, they might turn from being the oppressed to be the oppressors. Education must help to break this vicious cycle.
We have to start with school education. Every school should be a fun place for young people to live and to learn. Everyone in the school, teachers and students alike, should be respected, free from oppression and be treated as a human being. Schools are places where young people learn to live a dignified life.
School education should provide opportunities for young people to discover their uniqueness. In so doing, young people can increase their self-esteem and build a stronger character, a character which is not only inward-looking, but outward-looking as well. An outgoing character implies the caring of others. In a society dominated by an irresponsible culture - that people no longer want to take up the responsibility for others as well as their own acts - it is vital that in the process of character formation, young people should be enlightened to be serious about their own role in society and their share of social responsibility.
Society is constituted by people. Only when people have wholesome characters would there be a healthy society. Hence the personal development is key to social development. Overall social development rely not so much on theories, but on people, not a small group of rich and powerful people, but all people.
III. Some Suggestions For Education Reform In Asia
Genuine and long-lasting education reforms in Asia have to come from the front- line: educators and teachers from kindergartens, primary as well as secondary schools, and especially from colleges and universities. It is because the education authorities from the government look at issues from their office. Their outlook and value system are vastly different than the professionals who engage in the day-to-day struggles.
Society as a whole has paid too little attention to kindergarten education. Parents send their young ones to kindergarten so that mothers (in Asia, mothers are primary child-minders) can be free for half-a-day to engage in household chores or take up a part-time job. In most nations, kindergartens are not subsidized by the government, resulting many of them charge exorbitant fees. This prevents children from poor families to gain a head-start in education. It has been proven that early education is extremely beneficial for the development of a child. There is a Chinese saying, "a person’s character is formed when he/she reaches the age of three". So more resources should be allocated to fund all kinds of early education centers. When a child is developed more wholesomely in his/her early stages, society as a whole will save a lot of resources later on. Early stage development of a child far outweighs later adjustment efforts.
Second, Primary Schools.
Primary school education is generally considered in Asia as foundational education. Most governments expect or even require children between 6-12 to go to school. Because of limited resources and lack of school buildings, it is not unusual that some nations or regions have adopted the bi-session system (i.e. half of the children attend the morning session while the other half the afternoon session). Working with limited budgets, the teacher-student ratio is usually very high. Under such circumstances, schools are looked upon as a production line. But students are not products. They are human beings. Overall, due to the cramped environment and the loaded timetable, teachers are unable to give their students individual care and attention, which they need sorely during the formative years. Quality always gives way to quantity in the Asian scene.
Third, Secondary Schools.
Generally, secondary schools are packed with many different subjects. Many schools consider that students should have a wider knowledge, hence the more subjects, the better. Then, schools tend to concentrate on subject-oriented teaching rather than student-oriented education because teachers feel that it is more concrete and easier to deal with subjects than with students. It is also true that to work with students and especially in trying to solve their problems are extremely time consuming; and time in school is considered a luxury for teachers (whose work load is very heavy).
Students have to take on a lot of pressure, pressure from doing their home work, and particularly preparing for tests and examinations. According to one survey in Hong Kong, many students are suffering from lack of sleep. Students who failed in public examinations sought to end their life is not unheard of. According to another survey in Hong Kong, the highest suicide rate belongs to the elderly and high school students.
There is definitely an overemphasis of studies in high schools in Asia. This certainly is a highly distorted view on education. For the main purpose of education is the overall development of a person.
There is no lack of enthusiasts who want to engage in education reform. A group of wealthy professionals and academics in Hong Kong are now planning a school adjacent to the proposed site of cyberport, admitting students from 6-18 (providing six years of primary and six years of secondary schooling). It will be an exciting experiment. The only drawback is: since it is a private and self-supporting school, each student has to pay US$10,000 per year for tuition. Except the very rich, who can afford to send their children to his school which emphasizes on students’ personal growth and development.
In a recent issue of "Business Week", a primary school headmaster in a church-operated primary school in Hong Kong was included along with 49 other rich and powerful persons to be the 50 most promising people in Asia. During an interview, the headmaster said that he does not care so much about grades and examinations of his students. His school concentrates to cultivate an atmosphere of fun and learning. All his students are happy to go to school, and the teachers are trying to give full attention to their students rather than on text-books. Is it not very refreshing?
If there is not a whole lot of things we can do to improve on our education pattern, at least we can relax a little bit and help our colleagues and students to do the same. We must encourage our students to use their spare time to read and arrange as many exposure opportunities for them as possible during the weekends. People only learn when they can enjoy themselves.
Fourth, but the most important, the Universities.
Many universities in Asia directly or indirectly rely on government funding, resulting in a lack of independence. In Hong Kong, 80% of the university recurrent expenses come from the public purse. It is easy for the government to assert pressure on universities regarding their direction and policies.
A pollster from Hong Kong University consistently polled that the public did not have too much confidence in the Chief Executive. After an aide to the Chief Executive "visited" the university, it was reported that tremendous pressure from the university authorities was exerted to have the pollster stopped polling on the Chief Executive’s performance and popularity. Eventually, the Vice Chancellor of the university who tried to influence his staff’s work had to resign. After this fiasco, it was claimed by a senior member of the university that the allocation of funds to the university received a bigger cut. This is a case of interference of a university from government authorities cum self-censorship at their worst!
Self-censorship takes many forms. Four years ago, students wanted to erect the "Pillar of Shame", a masterpiece created by a famous Danish sculptor at their campus. As it was deemed to be too sensitive to totalitarian governments, permission was not granted.
Universities should remain independent. This is to avoid unnecessary interference and control from government authorities.
Private universities may have a slight edge over public universities, or to be precise universities funded directly or indirectly by governments. But in order to survive, private universities often turn to big corporations or foundations controlled by the rich and powerful for financial support.
As we now see so clearly that all business conglomerates have their hidden agenda when they want to fund a university or to financially control a newspaper. In Hong Kong, for example, all major newspapers and television stations are owned by business people. As a result, self-censorship is increasingly imminent in Hong Kong and press freedom is on its way out.
It is unrealistic to expect the powerful business community which contributes handsomely to the universities but does not have any expectations on the universities. Naturally it expects the universities not to roughen the feathers of the rich and powerful but instead concentrate to produce the kind of technocrats it requires. There goes the academic freedom.
Academic freedom is an important pillar for any university. It gives their professors lots of rooms to think of new but sometimes crazy ideas. Any kind of progress depends a lot on crazy ideas, ideas which deviate from tradition and existing laws and guidelines. Universities need the luxury to build up their own libraries, archives and museums. They need to pay more emphases on studies of humanities, especially philosophy and religions as well as fine arts… which are all considered not very "practical" by the down-to-earth business people.
In order to rely less on funding from government and the business community, universities must now think of new ways to operate.
To begin with they must cut costs. Generally, universities have become huge bureaucracies. The highest paid academics are spending their valuable time to do administrative chores, rather than to do serious teaching and research. Efforts must make to cut all sorts of red tapes. In simplifying procedures, universities can cut a lot of administrative staff posts. This in turn can save a lot of money. Universities can also consider to reduce teaching staff’s salaries and benefits.
By and large, professors and lecturers are extremely well paid. In Hong Kong, head of a university receives roughly 90% of what the most senior servant receives, i.e. about HK$180,000 (US$22,500) a month, plus housing, a chauffeured car and other benefits. A full professor receives roughly US$20,000 per month plus benefits. To most citizens in Hong Kong, these are staggering sums. Universities argue that in order to get the world renowned academics, they have to pay. But do universities really need top-flight academics more than good teachers who are dedicated to spend time to teach and nurture their students as well as to continue to study and do research?
The teaching profession in Hong Kong and perhaps in Asia as a whole is much better paid now than 50 years ago. However, it is widely recognized that they are not better teachers than those of two generations ago despite their academic qualifications may be a lot better. In former times, teachers were poorly paid. But their dedication and sacrifice had greatly influenced their students. Their students were better persons (kinder and more caring) than the present students.
Instead of relying on government funding and contributions from big business, universities can turn their attention to the support of their graduates and the wider community. It is hard work. However, universities are there to serve the people. So it is better to have 10,000 people to support them than 10 business corporations. But before they can raise money from their alumni and the community, they must do everything possible to make these people feel that they are a part of their universities.
There are lots of ways universities can do to involve their graduates and the community. One concrete way is to provide continuing education for the people in their community in general and their graduates in particular. These extension courses should not only be skills-enhancement, but life-enrichment as well. Furthermore, the purpose of continuing education should not be primarily for the increase of revenue, but rather it should try to engender a spirit of learning for life.
Universities should make every effort to entice community participation. But they should also get themselves involved in the struggles in their communities. Academics should also be practioners. That is why when Thamasset University decided to move its main campus away from Bangkok, it became such a controversy.
IV. Role of Educators
In final analysis, educators at all levels, whether they work as teachers in kindergartens, in primary and secondary schools or in universities, are the key players in education reform. But first, they must change their mind-set. Educators must not consider teaching as only a job or a life career where they can earn a decent living and along the way getting some job satisfaction. Educators should consider teaching as their calling or vocation so that they are willing to commit their whole life for the wholesome development of their students.
They must decide to go beyond from the teaching of subject matter to the nurturing of their students; so that their students will not only increase their knowledge and wisdom but especially grow in personality and character. This is a painstaking process. It demands a lot of the teachers’ time and energy just to be with their students. Indeed this is the mystery of life: life breeds life. When a teacher is willing to make a personal sacrifice in caring for his/her students, these students will experience a richer life.
Other than work more intensely with their students, educators should also work with their parents. Parents can be a real asset in education reform. Their care and attention for their children will help their children’s personal development immensely. Educators need to be constantly in touch with the parents of their students and encourage their parents to cooperate and join forces with the school to develop their children.
On the other hand, parents can hinder education reforms. For example, in the long standing high school teaching medium controversy in Hong Kong, all educators opined that it would increase students’ understanding and therefore interests to learn if schools adopt mother-tongue as the medium in classroom teaching. However, the strongest objection came from parents. Most parents believe that if schools do not use English as the medium of teaching, the English standard of their children will decrease which in turn will be disadvantageous for their childrens’ tertiary education and career opportunities.
It is true that students learn better when they enjoy and when they want to learn. Unfortunately, parents often unknowingly give a great deal of unnecessary pressure to their children. For instance, in Hong Kong, in order to make sure their children are admitted to the "famous schools", parents are not hesitant to move their homes to where there is a concentration of such schools. In order to make sure their children do well in tests and examinations, parents hire tutors to force their children to study extra hard after school. Some mothers quit their jobs just to be able to spend more time with their children, not to talk with them or have fun together, but to force them to study.
Four decades ago, when pre-vocational schools were introduced in Hong Kong for students who were not benefited from the education in grammar schools, it was the parents who objected and refused to send their children to such schools. These parents thought that only white-collar jobs would give their children a better future. Educators must not overlook the fact that parents need to be re-educated.
Educators should also work with the education authorities who are invariably controlled by a group of bureaucrats with no vision. They are always preoccupied with pressing issues and immediate problems. This explains why in Hong Kong education policies are inconsistent. They change back and forth and therefore are extremely confusing. Two years ago, the Education Department said that with the exception of 110 secondary schools who could continue to use English as the teaching medium, the rest (totaling about 380) would have to use mother-tongue. Now this is no longer the case. A decade ago, the Hong Kong government forced the tertiary education institutions to standardize. They should all offer three-year basic programs instead of four as previously practiced by several universities. Now the education authorities have second thoughts! Education authorities generally lack long-range planning because they are muddled about the primary goal of education.
Education authorities do not see education as a long-term investment. All they are concerned about is immediate results or immediate return. They are not willing to pay for something which does not have this effect.
More than two decades ago, a group of professionals wanted to pioneer an "Infant Stimulation and Parents’ Effectiveness Training Project". Their argument was that it has been proven in many nations in Europe and America that early intervention on retarded children of all forms and degrees, would greatly improve their later conditions e.g. severely mentally retarded children would become mildly retarded, etc. This project was not only good for these children but for their parents as well. Further, the public did not have to spend a lot of money to provide these children with expensive institutional care at a later stage. However, the government was not convinced. So this project had to rely on private donations and fees charging. The project has since been proven that it is a gem in Hong Kong’s social work services. Likewise, educators should try to convince the authorities as well as the general public that prevention is better than cure. Developmental measures are more crucial than remedial measures.
Due to public pressure, education authorities sometimes introduce certain reforms in policies, funding priorities and procedures. Oftentimes, the teaching professions resent these top to bottom reforms because according to them, these reforms invariably fail to solve the root problems in education. Moreover it was the disrespectful attitude of the authorities which is most distasteful. Education reform is best to start from the bottom. Autonomy is the key to education reform.
Educators must continue to speak up, forcing those in authorities to have a more open mind. Afterall, education aims to help people to have an open mind. Only when more and more people have open minds would open societies come about. Only in an open society can people live a dignified life.
To conclude, education is far too utilitarian-oriented in Asia. However, in reality, education should not be a tool for government or big business. Education is for the development of persons. Only when people who actually care and take up social responsibility will social development and social change be possible.
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