Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress
1st - 4th August 2005. Glasgow, Scotland
about the conference
Stella Chong, Ed.D.
Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Learning Needs
The Hong Kong Institute of Education
10 Lo Ping Road, D1-2/F-19,
Tai Po, NT
This paper attempts to analyze the practices of “quality school education” by using newly arrived children (NAC) as an example. A multi-level framework is employed to critically examine the current government policy with reference to the sampled nine schools from five levels: government, institutional, individual student, societal and professional learning community. Discrepancies between policy goals and reality are highlighted. The paper then addresses what should be done and undone if quality education is to become the hallmark of Hong Kong schooling.
Globally, policy-makers and world leaders in education are constantly looking for better ways to improve the quality of school education (Angus, 2004; Deng, 2004; Taylor & Henry, 2003) in order to, inter alia, capitalize on human resources. Hong Kong is no exception, especially since the post-colonial period in which the government has been more serious in making changes of its education system than its predecessors (Morris & Scott, 2003). The Education Commission (EC) Report No.7 (hereafter, ECR7), which focuses on quality school education, has highlighted ways to improve school management and performance such that schools can more effectively meet the changing needs of society and challenges stemming from globalization (EC, 1997). ECR7, setting the educational goals of Hong Kong, aims to enhance individual student’s personal growth and potential and to develop a quality culture and economy such that Hong Kong can maintain its competitiveness in the global economy. ERC7 accentuates on accountability; schools are to set clear goals and to delineate observable indicators. In pursuit of excellence, schools are recommended to make corresponding changes according to each school’s characteristics in modifying its own curriculum, examination and academic system. EC, the major policy advisor to the government, perceives that through school-based initiative and the promotion of direct subsidy scheme, a diversified school system can be maintained, providing more choices for parents and students. Further, ECR7 also notes that principals and teachers are required to continually upgrade their professional standards and development. According to the Education and Manpower Bureau (EMB), teachers are now recommended to have 150 hours of professional training every three years (http://www.info.gov.hk/emb). Since the Chief Executive’s Policy Address given in October 1997, a Quality Education Fund (QEF) of HK$5 billion was established in January 1998 to finance worthwhile projects for the promotion of quality education in Hong Kong (http://www.info.gov.hk/qef).
All the above good intentions and attempts are seemingly signs of the government’s sincerity in bringing quality education into reality. Albeit the extravagant investment on “quality education”, however, according to several media reports, many parents continue to demonstrate a lack of faith in the Hong Kong education by sending their children abroad or to local international schools rather than retaining them within the mainstream education system (Standard, 13 November 2002, A09). This unsettling phenomenon of “student exodus” continues to puzzle the government and warrants attention. Is our “quality school education” policy a rhetoric or a reality? What needs to be done or undone in order to make quality education in Hong Kong a hallmark such that students enjoy learning and that their potential can be fully actualized. Addressing the questions above is what this paper aims to achieve.
In this paper I attempt to analyze the systemic and practices of schools under the 1997 reform of “quality school education” by using newly arrived children (NAC) as an illustration. NAC are those who migrate to Hong Kong from mainland China. Typically, their fathers are working class people who got married in the Mainland. First hand data were gathered in 2001 from nine school administrators and ten teachers (mainly teachers who were assigned to teach NAC) through semi-structured interviews in nine primary schools. The sample was somewhat representative, for it included subsidized and government schools with percentages of NAC ranging from 4.4% to over 96%, and their location fairly represents NAC highly concentrated in some districts in both the urban and suburban areas. As part of the participatory study, all interviews were transcribed and sent back to participants for feedback and confirmation of the validity of the data. Secondary sources of data were compiled from children’s self-reported stories (about 50 pieces of NAC narratives were reviewed and thematically analyzed) accessed through school and community publications. My study consists of multiple case studies using a qualitative approach of content analysis, coding and cross-case analysis (Huberman & Miles, 1998). Basically three sets of data representing the views of principals, teachers and the newly arrived students are utilized for this multi-level analysis. Findings are then interpreted against the backdrop of critical ethnography (Thomas, 1993).
Major findings of this study indicated that about 66.7% of the sampled schools that applied strict admission standards to rule out marginal standard students did not perceive the new arrivals as a problem. Instead, NAC were seen to bring additive values that could possibly contribute to the schools’ fame and consolidate their superior “banding” status. The remaining schools (33.3%) that practiced a more open door policy and had a lower banding status reported numerous difficulties in meeting students’ needs as well as in dealing with disruptive and other forms of unwanted behavior. The total number of NAC in these lower banding schools was greater than the total in the highly selective schools. The study found numerous institutional and structural elements that deny most NAC with less valued social and cultural capitals, and fair access to equal opportunity in schooling. As a result of lack of critical awareness of multicultural and inclusive education knowledge at the school and society levels, NAC as a social group faced tremendous pressure to conform to a system that disadvantaged them. Discrepancies between quality education policy goals and reality are found to prevail in most of the sampled schools.
A multi-level framework is employed to guide the critical review and to highlight what should be done and undone if quality and equity for all are to become hallmarks of Hong Kong schooling.
The multi-level analysis evidently suggests that the Hong Kong Policy of Quality Education for All is at stake. At best, it is a mere rhetoric commitment than reality. The quick push of different policies at the government level is not only confusing but detrimental at the institutional, individual and professional community levels. Society, by and large, is too pre-occupied by the neo-conservative discourse of performativity, efficiency, and the highly contested notion of academic standards that human rights, equality and social justice are pushed to the sideline. Although critical scholars (e.g., Apple, 2001; Barton & Slee, 1999) have cast doubts on the belief in the operation of market forces as the optimal instrument for planning educational provision, nevertheless, our leaders are obviously heading us towards such a market-driven direction accentuating on competitiveness, accountability and evidence-based outcome, as reflected by the most recently implementation of the Basic Competency Assessment in 2004, in which every school is put in the public limelight of their academic standings. Every school administrators, teachers, parents and students in Hong Kong will become even more obsessed by grades and achievement of students. Such discourse of performativity makes everyone becomes shortsighted and blurred of the true meaning of education. Schools’ gatekeeping role is anticipated to be ever tighter.
This study of NAC reveals that the majority of the professional community’s worldview and mindset of Hong Kong schooling remains unchanged. School personnel is unprepared for the challenges in handling diversities in schools as a result of employing a traditional monocultural approach, though many studies revealed that it is ineffective or even detrimental to bicultural students (e.g., Canen, 2003). It is unfortunate that the professional community is either unable to catch up with the post-modern rapid transformation of the global society or are still holding onto the modernity era of relatively stable, homogenous and manageable world view (see e.g., Townsend and Cheng, 2000) that made them inflexible and unable to attend to diversity.
Leaders are like the captains of the ship where many key decisions affecting all those on board are made. Our chief education leader, Professor Arthur Li, proudly announced in an annual reporting session some of the statistics on student achievements in 2003 and 2004 as if Hong Kong’s education is one of the best in the world. He further remarked that Hong Kong should position itself as a regional education hub (Li, 2004). Yes, Hong Kong should be proud of its international outstanding achievement in some of its areas like Mathematics and Science. But does achievement by means of test scores alone illustrate that our education is of “high quality”? If Hong Kong’s education quality is so high, why would most of our Hong Kong government officials and well-to-do parents keep sending their children abroad for education instead of letting them stay behind? Why would business sectors complained about the poor standards of our graduate students? As Rose succinctly puts, “If we think about education largely in relation to economic competitiveness, then we lose sight of the fact that school has to be about more than economy. If we determine success primarily in terms of test scores, then we ignore the social, moral and aesthetic dimensions of teaching and learning – and, as well, we’ll miss those considerable intellectual achievements which aren’t easily quantifiable.” (Slee, Weiner & Tomlinson, 1998, p.2)
As the indigenous birthrate continual to drop and there is an increase in numbers of NAC who might takeover the future population of Hong Kong by 2031 as some demographers predicted (South China Morning Post, 8 May 2002, p.1), it is unfortunate that the government appeared insensitive to this fact. The ways the majority of newcomers are currently treated would hurt rather than help the future economy. Improvements for the disadvantaged economic and cultural minorities are imminent. If Hong Kong strives to make quality education a hallmark, such a participatory and inclusivity form of education is essential to shifting the dominant epistemology and power relations, which prevail in society. The political force of forging towards change with the big banner of “quality education” in front, yet without foresight or hindsight of the government, is likened to setting up booby traps and then wondering why so many get hurt when in the first place those accidents are man-made.
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