Speech by Professor Arthur KC Li, GBS, JP
Secretary for Education and Manpower
At the 4th Reporting Session of the Education Commission
2 December 2006
Dr Wong, Professor McGaw, ladies and gentlemen,
Education holds the key to the success of a society. This is particularly true for Hong Kong where people are the only natural resource. If we are to prosper, our students must optimize their potentials and our people must upgrade themselves. We cannot do this without education.
I am grateful to Dr Wong who has just given us highlights of the current local education landscape. We have witnessed a transformation of our education system – the professional upgrading of our teaching force, and improvements in student attainments and performances. This is truly encouraging.
Since the rolling out of the Education Reform proposals in 2000, the community has been expecting changes and results. But typical of a city like Hong Kong which emphasizes efficiency, people want a “quick fix” and instant results which, I hope Professor McGaw would agree, are almost impossible for any education reform in the world. I am not saying this to dampen your expectation, or to make excuses. I am saying this to put things in context. The fact is: it takes time for the reform measures to take root; it takes time for all those who are implementing the reform to gather, and to learn from, experience; it takes time for our students educated under the reformed landscape to progress up the different levels. And perhaps more subtly, it takes time for the different stakeholders, including school management, teachers, parents and the Government to come to a consensus on different steps along the way and to build rapport.
Rounding up the strategy
To round up the Education Reform proposals announced in 2000, we have recently proposed two further initiatives that would build on our existing strengths.
Stretching the potential and nurturing the giftedness of our students
Since we started to systematically promote the multiple intelligences of our students in 2001, we have seen a growing number of exceptionally gifted local teenagers. They are unrivalled at international competitions and bring home many top awards. They are budding talents that we cannot afford to ignore. We therefore propose to establish an Academy for Gifted Education to give them sustainable and diversified learning support and to take them one step further.
The Academy will target students aged 10 to 18 who are either excellent academic achievers or distinguished performers in specific areas such as science and technology, performing arts and humanities. Not only would their cognitive needs be met, but the students’ affective, social and emotional needs would also be catered for. The curriculum will be tailor-made for them to bring out their full potential. The Academy will also provide training for parents and teachers, carry out research and development, and promote the concept of gifted education. In the long run, the Academy can be a platform for international exchanges, as well as for research and development.
New milestone in early childhood education
Another milestone we set for ourselves this year is early childhood education.
We intend to provide, for the first time, direct fee assistance to parents. We will start with $13,000 per student in 2007/08, $10,000 of which will be used on fee subsidy and the remaining $3,000 on teacher training. By 2011/12, the subsidy will be increased to $16,000 and we will be spending an additional $2 billion each year on the scheme. Not only this. Very soon we will be giving all kindergartens a one-off grant for them to buy teaching materials and upgrade their facilities. All this only shows that we are determined to improve the quality of pre-primary education and we are prepared to invest heavily in it. I find it very disappointing that despite Government’s goodwill, the proposal has met with objection from some quarters, but I am hopeful that with continuous dialogue, we would be able to talk things through.
Priority: Working in partnership to sustain and to implement the blueprint
Taking into account these new initiatives and the ones we have been taking forward since 2000, I think I can say with confidence, and pride, that Hong Kong has put in place the strategy and the infrastructure required for the delivery of quality education. Our priority for the short to medium term is to sustain the momentum of the Education Reform and to implement the various measures announced. And we have to do so by working in partnership with the stakeholders, notably the principals and the teachers who are contributing at the forefront.
The New “ 334” Academic Structure for Senior Secondary Education and Higher Education
To begin with, we will make all the preparations that are necessary to implement in 2009 the new academic structure. The three years of senior secondary education will be followed by a four-year undergraduate programme starting from 2012. This is an important structural change which better addresses the diverse needs of our secondary school students, broadens their outlook, reduces the pressure of public examinations and makes learning more rewarding.
Reforming the academic structure entails wide-ranging changes which have far-reaching implications for the whole community. We will continue to work closely with the relevant parties including the HKEAA, universities, the school sector, parents and other community sectors to ensure its smooth implementation. To principals and teachers, please rest assured that EMB will back you up along the way. You have already built up a momentum of professional development and a culture of collaborative teaching. This will certainly make things easier.
Continuous professional development of teachers signifies the highest return on educational investment
On professional development, we have scaled up our school-based professional support services with the creation of Education Development Fund in July 2004. With the concerted effort of principals, teachers and academics, we have successfully launched a number of government funded programmes, such as the Principal Support Network, School Support Partners Scheme, Professional Development Schools and University-School Support Programmes. Together they have rendered on-site school-based support to 442 primary schools and 589 secondary schools in the past two years. This area of our work will remain our priority. Starting from 2006, we will also extend our school-based professional support services to kindergartens, bringing them into our quality assurance cycle.
Self-evaluation and self-improvement
There is no better way to sustain improvements in the school sector than encouraging stakeholders to “internalise” the drive for improvement. That is why we have introduced the School Development and Accountability (SDA) framework, drawing on a complementary process of school self-evaluation and external school review (ESR). Since its inception in 2003, more than 430 schools have undergone ESR. Overall, schools responded positively to the exercise. That is because they see the core values of SDA. They know it is meant to nurture a culture of self-evaluation and collaboration, that it promotes the use of data and evidence to identify strengths and areas of concerns, and induces a positive impact on learning and teaching.
Similar observation is echoed in a parallel three-phased study undertaken by Professor John MacBeath of the University of Cambridge . The Study concludes that the achievements in embedding SDA in school work are substantial and impressive. Looking ahead, we will continue to refine and step up the support for schools through thematic training and sharing. We will continue with ESR until the first cycle is completed by end of 2007. At the same time, we are reviewing the ESR, to pave way for the second cycle to commence in 2008.
Catering for student diversity and special educational needs
Schools today are serving a more heterogeneous student cohort with diverse abilities and needs than they did before. It is important that we provide schools with the necessary resources to cater for students’ needs. It is equally important that schools have a culture of respecting and accommodating individual differences. We will continue to strengthen teacher training programmes, to equip our teachers with the knowledge and skills to address the specific learning needs of their students. Paradigm shift of stakeholders such as parents and students can be achieved through moral / civic education and parent education.
Soliciting further community support
I want to emphasize that the challenges for the coming years are not just a matter for EMB and our partners in the education sector. In this fast-changing era, schools are no longer the only source of information and inspiration for our students. People from all walks of life have a part to play in educating our youngsters. For instance, to achieve whole person development of students, we have launched the School-Business Partnership Programme in 2005. It is supported by over 130 enterprises and as many as 15,000 students have participated in about 250 activities. Though a good start, this is certainly not enough. I appeal to the different organizations in our community to exercise their social responsibility, to provide various kinds of resources and cooperate with schools in offering a wide range of activities. You can organize theme-based talks, workplace visits, business field studies, mentoring programmes and job demonstrations. Whichever way you wish to contribute, it will be most welcome, because we do need your generous support to help nurture Hong Kong 's younger generation.
Longer term visions
Finally, I hope our critics will not be disappointed when I say that our priority for the coming years is to sustain and to implement. Although “sustaining” and “implementing” should not carry any surprises, it does not mean that we will not look into initiatives which are more visionary. As the Government has openly remarked, we will map out strategies for developing Hong Kong into an education hub for the region. This ambition is backed up by the remarkable achievements made by our tertiary institutions in the international arena. By now, three of our universities are ranked among the top 60 by the Times’ Higher Education Supplement in 2006. They are also ranked as among the top 100 universities in "The Top 100 Global Universities 2006" in Newsweek International. Our institutions also host the best Executive MBA and tourism/hospitality programmes both regionally and internationally. We will also continue to look into the case of small class teaching, having regard to an ongoing study expected to be completed in 2008 and any identified need for infrastructural and professional support.
Ladies and gentlemen, education is by nature an ongoing process, and so is our endeavour to improve education. We have gone a long way in mapping out a shared vision. We have gone a long way in building for our education arena a strong foundation, a foundation for embracing changes and for sustainable development. Let us learn from, and take heart in, what we have achieved so far and move forward.
I wish to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Dr Rosanna Wong, Chairman of the Education Commission, for her excellent leadership in the Commission and all the Commission Members for their contributions and devotion in serving the education sector. My heartfelt thanks also go to your participation this morning and your views and feedback to be given to us later on.