On Monday, our junior reporters attended the fourth annual Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series held by SCMP. This year’s event, which was held at the JW Marriot Hong Kong, featured Dr Anissa Chan, principal at St Paul’s Co-educational College; Arnold Chan, Co-Founder of Teach4HK; Emeritus Professor Cheng Kai-ming of The University of Hong Kong; Hon Ip Kin-yuen, Legislative Councillor (Education); and Yonden Lhatoo, Senior Editor of the South China Morning Post. They discussed the timely topic: “Fixing Education: students first or bureaucracy first?”
We need to focus on the joy of learning
More than 20 student suicides this academic year are clear evidence of problems in Hong Kong’s current educational system. During the debate, the five panellists aimed to identify these problems, and come up with some realistic solutions for them.
“We don’t understand the students,” said Cheng Kai-Ming, Emeritus Professor at The University of Hong Kong. “We belong to the 20th century, while the students today belong to the 21st century.”
He also believes that the current educational system is “moving further away from genuine, authentic learning”, and is detrimental to building a passion or interest for learning among teenagers.
“Learning isn’t fun anymore when it’s for the sake of exams.” agreed Yonden Lhatoo, Senior Editor at the South China Morning Post who was the moderator for the panel.
Indeed, the students of Hong Kong have been generally pushed to their academic limits by their parents, teachers, and – above all – standardised testings.
Ip Kin-yuen, a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong for Education, also believes that the educational system should be diversified, because: “there are so many methods of learning out there.”
A fundamental change is needed
Where have we gone wrong? How does the Hong Kong culture play a role in the education system? How have we let the education system stray so far from learning?
These some of the thought-provoking questions asked by the panel of experts on Monday at SCMP’s Redefining Hong Kong Debate Series. In light of the recent student suicides due to the pressures of our school systems, it is imperative to gain a full understanding of the education system and discuss the uncomfortable issues surrounding it.
Students work endlessly to get the high marks that society demands, terrified of the consequences that could result from failure. But these superficial statistics are not a true measure of success. Teachers, meanwhile, are also in an unfavourable situation with not enough time or resources to produce high-quality individualised classroom plans. Instead, students are judged on a highly inaccurate, standardised scale, thus repeating the toxic cycle all over again.
The educational experience, a system that was once built on learning and gaining life experience, has become predominantly focused on examinations.
While there were differing perspectives on stage, one unanimous opinion was heard throughout the discussion: there needs to be a fundamental change in a society that glorifies academic success and allows it to take precedence over students’ health and well-being.
Problem ignored as ideals are preached
Monday’s panellists did very little to tackle the issue of the student suicide epidemic that’s at the forefront of Hongkonger’s minds. Not even the Legco member did so much as tip his hat in respect.
Ip Kin-Yuen, a Legislative Councillor (Education), spent the first half hour pacing in circles, deflecting any mention of the recent secondary student deaths by pushing the topic back to the proposed cancellation of the city-wide TSAs, which he later mentioned could be “too advanced for secondary school readers to comprehend”.
The panel’s inability to confront the issue of suicide reflects a lack of actionable proposals. The majority of the debate was spent on tailoring an “ideal” curriculum. They dealt with issues – balance, extracurriculars, socialisation – in terms that were purely theoretical, if not grossly cliched.
Much of what Anissa Chan mentioned about supporting “an encouraging, fun, and engaging educational experience for students to learn in”, as well as her promising statements of how “we need to know how to collaborate and learn correctly”, was inspiring, but her comments did little more than point out the obvious in the current crisis of mental health illnesses.
It was clear that though these professionals were experts in their own respective industries, they had no clear insights into the real lives of students. And as a student, it was painfully disappointing to see the struggles of teenagers misunderstood and so greatly downplayed.
If 20 students take their own lives in the span of six months, there surely must be something greater at play than poor emotional management skills at hand. This very systemic and cultural problem is not something that can be remedied by vague, long-term plans for a “holistic” education.
For all their lengthy speeches, the panellists offered an idealistic vision for the far future, yet were consistently unable to provide much-needed prescriptions for the present.
Ultimately, they only defined the grim reality of our education system: it is bureaucracy, not the real well-being of students, that is being placed first.