We can't always rely on statistics when it comes to education

We can't always rely on statistics when it comes to education


Is Secretary for Education Eddie Ng too focused on numbers rather than students and teachers?
Is Secretary for Education Eddie Ng too focused on numbers rather than students and teachers?
Photo: Nora Tam/SCMP

Sometimes numbers don't tell the whole story.

I was fortunate enough to speak to members of the Education Bureau in August, as part of an informal session organised by the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups.

It was an amazing opportunity, and I was surprised by how approachable these high-ranking officials were.

However, I didn't agree with everything they had to say. I've never been good with statistics, and I found that a lot of the responses I received seemed to be too number-orientated.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim talked about the "substantial evidence" for a link between using an English-language curriculum and achieving better English grades in Chinese-medium schools.

Others offered carefully researched figures on general trends within education. But the education system presented by the data sounded strangely unfamiliar to me.

From what I could gather, the officials' good intentions to create a more bilingual Hong Kong are dependent on the data they have gathered. They look at DSE results and make extremely important decisions on the basis of the trends they see.

But there are bigger questions to answer. Should English be considered a universal language, or simply a DSE subject for us to study? And how far do percentages, grades and other data truly reflect the learning process in the classroom?

Given the way our school system places so much emphasis on memorisation and exam technique, I have my doubts.

Policies which affect real lives shouldn't be reduced to mere facts and figures. This is not some big science experiment. We can't dismiss the quality of a school purely on grades and performance - we need to talk to the teachers and the students about what works and what doesn't.

This is because there are limitations to facts. Not everything can be conveyed in a percentage, and we can't base our future only on numbers.

I would like to see students surveyed about their education. We need to know what their attitudes are towards school and government policy.

In my 10 years at school, I have never once been consulted about education policy. Yet this is an issue which will affect the future of students like me more than anyone else.

I've never been given the chance to express my views on the controversial national education curriculum (other than through student group Scholarism) or discuss the future of schools with the people making the decisions.

In a city where finance is king, I can see why people are drawn towards statistics and numbers. But being data-obsessed is not always the answer. We hear people debate democracy in terms of the decline in gross domestic product - is this really the sort of city we want to live in?

Maybe it is time to consider the actual people behind these numbers. Their lives can't always be reduced to statistics. And if we are too focused on the numbers, we are in danger of forgetting what really matters.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
We need more people power in education


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