Opening Statement by Professor Arthur KC Li, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education and Manpower
at Education Commission’s Annual Reporting Session
11 December 2004
Dr Wong, ladies and gentlemen,
As a Principal Official of the Hong Kong SAR Government, I am conscious of my responsibility to the people of Hong Kong , and the need to account for my Bureau’s decisions, actions and achievements. Today’s forum provides me with the opportunity to do just that, and I am grateful to the Education Commission for hosting the event.
This year, we have seen further progress in education that bears testimony to the dedication and growing professionalism of education workers at all levels, and holds promises of a better and brighter future.
4 years ago, the EC’s document “Learning for Life, Learning through Life”, which ranges from early childhood to continuing education, set out the twin objectives of motivating students to learn and preparing them to be lifelong learners by learning how to learn.
Since 2000, we have come a long way in putting in place a more flexible education system that provides diversity, choice and opportunities, emphasises quality and accountability, and encourages lifelong learning. Details of the progress on individual recommendations are set out in the progress report which has been distributed.
I am pleased to say that, by next year, we will have completely covered what we have promised, when we finalise our views on two major issues, namely, reforming the academic structure for the senior secondary and higher education, and the policies on the medium of instruction and secondary school places allocation systems, following public consultation.
In a nutshell, since 2000, we have expanded and increased the diversity of learning opportunities for both school-aged children and workers, we have upgraded the qualifications and professional capacity of the teaching force. We have enhanced the transparency and accountability of schools, and we have introduced a new culture of teaching and learning. All these will help to improve the quality of our people, and ultimately the competitiveness of Hong Kong .
Impact of reform
Change is inevitably difficult and seems threatening because of the unknown. Change also entails additional work and effort. Nonetheless, it is gratifying to know that our teachers and principals have risen to the challenge.
Over 70% of primary school and over 50% of secondary school principals reported improvement in students’ communication skills, independent thinking, motivation, creativity and commitment following the education reform.
Over 50% of school heads reported significant improvements in the relationship among the stakeholders, namely teachers, parents and students, and higher morale among teaching staff, despite additional work.
Over 70% of primary students find learning more enjoyable and like going to school more than before.
On the training front, we have seen more than ever a substantial size of our working population pursuing training and retraining in one form or the other.
Over 100,000 persons from some 20 industries and trades have their job-related skills upgraded through joining the Skill Upgrading Scheme.
Over $1.4 billion from the Continuing Education Fund have been allocated to fund 140,000 applicants who wanted to pursue lifelong learning. Over 50,000 unemployed and displaced workers have received retraining annually through the support of the Employee Retraining Board and among whom 80% have secured a job after retraining.
We are also building alternative progression pathways for students. Over 20,000 students have enrolled in Project Yi Jin which offers them a second chance to further education or work and over 14,200 self-financing post-secondary education opportunities offered to school leavers which included programmes that are more vocationally oriented and market driven. Evaluation of the above schemes shows that an overwhelming majority of participants, and their parents or employers, supported the initiatives and reported having benefited from them.
Everything we do is for the benefit of our students, and we can be truly proud of them. In 2004, our students continued to perform strongly in international studies.
For example, Hong Kong remains at the top of the league in Mathematics in PISA 2003 which was announced a few days ago. We are also among the top in Science and Reading , which is the envy of many developed economies around the world.
Our students also fared well in a number of international and national competitions in 2004.
Over the years, our students have obtained numerous prestigious awards, but the good news often escapes our attention.
To give due recognition to our outstanding students, we shall set up a Hall of Fame in 2005 to honour their achievements permanently.
Likewise, we should pay tribute to teachers to whom our outstanding students owe their success. There are many dedicated, creative and professional teachers in Hong Kong . They deserve our highest respect, and to them we have entrusted the future of our young people.
This year, we honoured 44 language teachers with the first ever Chief Executive’s Award for Teaching Excellence. In addition, 85 teachers were commended.
Two other teachers received national awards for 19th National Science and Technology Invention Contest and 5th National Young Teachers Competition.
It is also gratifying to note that the qualifications and professionalism of our principals and teachers have improved significantly since 1997. Today, 53% and 81% respectively of our primary and secondary teachers have both a degree and teacher training, 21% and 64% respectively of primary and secondary principals have a Master or higher degree.
Notwithstanding the common impression of chaos and dissatisfaction, I hope, you will agree with me, after hearing all the good news that are seldom reported, that we have indeed made great strides since we launched the education reform. We should be proud of our achievements as Hong Kong compares favourably to other places where similar education reforms are taking place. There are good reasons to celebrate and, we should give ourselves a pat on the back and pay tribute to our frontline educators, instead of talking ourselves down.
I am not being blindly optimistic either. Afterall, Rome was not built in a day. There are still many challenges ahead of us, which I would like to share with you.
(a) We need a more holistic approach to nurturing our young people
Schools are, by nature, conservative institutions that are entrusted with the task of passing from generation to generation established traditions and values. Yet, they have to prepare young people for life and work in a globalised, pluralistic and fast changing world. Far too often, rising public expectations out pace improvements in the education system, causing on-going dissatisfaction which does not do justice to the hard work of educators.
We need to manage expectations and, at the same time, leverage on community resources to adjust the pace and magnitude of change, so as to reduce the expectation gap. On the other hand, to expedite change, we need to leverage on community resources to support schools. For example, in the recent debate on liberal studies in senior secondary education, teachers are worried about their ability to teach the new subject, but the community sees the benefit of liberal studies in broadening the knowledge base of our young people. There are many people in the community who believe they can help by giving talks on individual modules of liberal studies. This would help to reduce the burden on teachers and benefit students at the same time.
Many schools are already doing that by inviting guest speakers. Others have partnered with businesses to provide workplace experience for their students. These are commendable initiatives. What we need to do is to expand, and institutionalise, these networks of community support so that schools will not be left to their individual devices. In particular, we need to assist schools which, due to history or limited connections, do not have access to community resources. Likewise, I see the scope for much closer cooperation among government departments that serve young people, including, for example, the Social Welfare Department, Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Department of Health and the Police.
(b) We need to work much harder on changing the mindset
We have to change the mindset before we can change behaviour. This is true for both parents and teachers.
Over the weekend, I was appalled to see on television parents flocking to a kindergarten that is known for teaching abstruse vocabulary out of context and making young children write before the age of three.
If parents continue to believe in rote learning and ask for more examinations, schools will cater for their demands. This would defeat the purpose of the education reform. The situation will get worse with the declining student population which has created unhealthy competitive pressures among kindergartens and schools.
If we wish to see teaching being respected as a profession, which I think we should, then principals and teachers will have to defend their professionalism, uphold educational principles and do what is in the best interest of students. Good doctors will never allow patients to dictate the treatment they prescribe. We must not allow “intuition” to over-ride “professional judgment”. We must adopt a student-centred approach to teaching that is underpinned by scientific knowledge and evidence.
First and foremost, educators must share their vision and work with parents, instead of being led into un-educational practices. We have to identify success stories (and there are plenty of them), to convince parents and the public at large that there are better ways of learning that are more sustainable and appropriate in a rapidly changing society.
(c) Professional development of teachers promises the highest return on investment among all educational initiatives.
The curriculum reform demands that teachers reconceptualise learning with the core belief that all students can learn and achieve high standards, and accept responsibility for student learning outcome. This means, when a student fails, the teacher has to ask “what do I need to do differently to make my student succeed next time?” This in turn means that teachers have to accept continuous professional development to search for best practice. Teachers who embrace the reform and seek out professional development opportunities will be more enlightened and will find teaching more gratifying as their students achieve higher standards.
Researchers have analysed the impact of a range of reform initiatives and found professional development of teachers to have the biggest impact on student achievement. The effect is ten times that of small class teaching. Intuitively small class teaching is often seen as the panacea for many educational problems. In a knowledge society, we must, however, base decisions on evidence and data.
There are various ways of organising professional development activities. Traditionally, teachers attend classes outside school. For practitioners, professional learning communities are often more effective. These educational networks open access to a broader range of learning opportunities and tacit knowledge through sharing of good practices and success stories, which are more enlightening and energising.
(d) Schools have to pay more attention to synergising innovations to maximise the impact.
We often hear complaints about teachers being overworked. Teaching is an honourable job. It also involves hard work that requires both physical and emotional energy. The more dedicated a teacher is the more likely he or she is overworked. This is an inherent quandary which applies not only to the teaching profession but all workers. It is also true that intrinsically motivated workers are less likely to complain about workload and pressure.
The school leadership and management have the responsibility to ensure that teachers’ time and energy are expended on activities that will bring the most benefit to students. I have seen schools in which principals and teachers who work very hard, but their morale is high because of a supportive school climate, relatedness with students and satisfaction from students’ learning outcomes. Futile labour and lack of recognition cause frustration and depression than merely long hours of work.
Schools have to be more selective in choosing educational innovations that suit their students. It is also necessary to see the connections between innovations, and implement them in a way that will reinforce their impact. Schools must also scale down or abandon existing activities to make time and space available for new initiatives in order to avoid overloading teachers.
(e) Urgent action is needed to narrow the achievement gap
Schools vary significantly in their student achievement. This is reflected in various assessment results and quality assurance inspection reports. There is an urgent need to identify the underlying causes of student failures, and adopt a more targeted professional support strategy to narrow the achievement gap.
Last year, EMB launched the school development and accountability framework, which coupled school self-evaluation with external school review. The aim is to encourage reflective practices that enable schools to identify their strengths and areas for improvement, and generate ownership among teachers of the need for improvement and the proposed measures. The insight and ownership are essential for sustainable development. Afterall, school reform has to be initiated from within the school. I am pleased to say that the first 100 schools that have gone through the self-evaluation and external review processes generally found the experience invaluable and instructive.
For schools that are determined to improve, they can make use of the school-based professional support programme, which we have introduced in the current school year, to acquire external professional expertise to assist them in their endeavours. The two measures, namely school accountability and development and school-based professional support, I hope, will help to narrow the achievement gap among schools over time.
Priorities for 2005
Much has been achieved, but a lot remains to be done.
Top on the agenda for 2005 is the reform of the academic structure for the senior secondary and higher education, which is currently under public consultation until 19 January 2005 . A decision will be made on the timing and arrangement for the way forward in the second quarter of next year.
The EC Working Group on the review of the medium of instruction and secondary school places allocation system is close to completing its work. I understand the EC will consult the public by the end of January 2005, and to make a final recommendation to me by summer 2005.
As regards the on-going initiatives, professional development of principals and teachers will continue to be our top priority. The aim will be to promote reflective practice and build capacity within schools for sustainable self-development and improvement.
To promote lifelong learning and upgrade the quality of our workforce, we shall establish a qualifications register in 2005 and work out the competencies required for different various levels of qualifications for various industries. I expect the first batch of industry training specifications to be available by the middle of 2005. We shall continue to build up the Qualifications Framework in Hong Kong so as to give the young generation and the working population a clear roadmap on which they can pursue their lifelong progression in both career and learning.
Last but not least, we shall step up our networking capacity to promote professional sharing and to rally parental and community support in a concerted effort to nurture a new generation of people who are responsible citizens, lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and good communicators.
We have come a long way since the education reform was launched in 2000. We have overcome many problems and have learned from the experience. And, we are ready to embrace new challenges with confidence and a clear vision.
The future of Hong Kong lies in education. Everyone therefore has a stake in education. By working together, with one heart and one mind, we can make a difference.