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A Letter to the Education Editor

HK Primary Class

I feel moved to write yet another article to the HK print media again! Not that it does anything more than help me get some things off my chest! It will of course be minus the pics of a very typical HK Primary classroom. Note the high tech device in the lower pic. It is called a chalkboard for those who have not seen these for a while :-)

It is probably quite ironic that a lot of the debate about the language of instruction in government-funded Hong Kong schools and the sorry state of the system, which is so heavily examination focused it elevates tutors to the status of rock stars, takes place in English media seldom read by HK legislators. Indeed, getting a message to anyone capable of bringing about the necessary reform seems so very difficult, it often amazes me that parents don’t take up marching in the streets. I guess part of the answer lies in the fact that the rich, the powerful and the influential in Hong Kong have the option of paying private tutors with more international perspectives or sending their children to the international school sector, one that is understandably booming in this city due to the fact that local passport holders are welcomed to them.

Like other writers to these columns, I have personal experience of working within the system and have volunteered years of time, effort, energy and personal savings to try to increase the chances of Hong Kong children to have exposure to a modern 21st Century modality of learning. Also like others, I feel that I have met with very little success. In my work as a Digital Learning Consultant I have worked with agencies that use private sector money to be able to support a vibrant community of consultants and other experts to support governments in reforming education for the future. This unfortunately can’t happen in Hong Kong as the concerns about bureaucrats being accused of receiving kick-backs or feeling that they will be pressured to award lucrative contracts based on something other than merit mean that the only formal arrangements with companies have to come via a charitable structure such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. There are very few of these structures set up outside of North America and so the rich mix of expertise which makes amazing initiatives possible such as the one I have just returned on working with in Doha with teachers from around 20 nations just don’t happen for K-12 Education in Hong Kong.
Relying on charitable and not-for-profit organisations to lead your reforms is also very limiting in terms of being able to rally companies to come to the party and assist with conferences and exhibitions. I have attended the British Educational Technology Trade show (BETT) in London for the last 3 years and the vibrancy and energy of over 600 exhibitors and nearly 30,000 educators over 4 days has spin-offs that keep students and educators trying to reach for the best applications of technology for learning all year around. Hi Tech HK ClassroomThe small and poorly supported exhibit hall at the IT in Education Symposium at Pui Ching School each May is, by comparison, almost a waste of time and effort.

Personally, I have also tried to assist the Education Bureau of Hong Kong for the last 3 years on an almost charitable basis. I have run courses for teachers in such things as global collaboration with classrooms using remote conferencing tools, Podcasting for improving spoken English, Using Web2.0 tools for effective learning. For my time and trouble the education bureau pays me a honorarium which is considerably less than I could make if I did a day’s emergency teaching for a Hong Kong school.  It worked for a while but I have to try to support my family now that a new member is on the way. Maybe I can go back to helping after I retire. Given the current rate of progress in Hong Kong education, nothing much is likely to change in the next 20 years or so. In the meantime I will return to the blossoming international school sector confident that the Hong Kong government will continue to encourage more of its population to see this as the only option to get an education that prepares them for a collaborative, communicative, globally connected world of the future that will reward creativity and ingenuity over compliance and obedience. The great pity to me is that such a choice is not available to everyone in Hong Kong.

Pics: Anson & Teams by somejoseph

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2 Responses to “A Letter to the Education Editor”

  1.   By Melissa Smith on Feb 15, 2009 | Reply

    As I read your post I felt that I could empathize with your issue. My husband and I are both educators, though I work for an upper class private school and he works for the public school system. I find it sad how my school is on the cutting edge, studying 21st Century learning, having an almost one to one laptop program, and a huge technology integration program. My husband’s school system though is stuck. He is an art teacher. Recently he attended a new teacher meeting where the mentor explained to the newbies that it is all about the state tests. The creative and critical thinking skills that his and our students will have to have is not the key in these classrooms. His fear is that there will be cuts in the art programs since the USA is in a recession. The funding for technology integration, the drive towards training the teachers utilizing these Web 2.0 and 3.0 tools are not the focus yet. So we too are in the mud, stuck with the same attitude…just teach what has to be taught with the same chalkboards and textbooks that have been apart of the classrooms. I pray that the children of our classrooms will change the future education, seeing the need for improvement in all classroom across the world. They will be incharge soon enough. I hope their minds will not follow in their parents’ footsteps and only give the best to those in financial power.

  2.   By Paul McMahon on Feb 16, 2009 | Reply

    Melissa,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I have been in this game a long time and I take heart from the small footsteps we are taking. Is is Ghandi I am quoting when I say I try to “be the change that I want to see in the world”.
    We ARE making change here in Hong Kong. It has been very slow and very measured to date but it is happening.
    I think we all have to work very hard at it but it will come. I like Clayton Christensen’s Theory of “disruptive innovation” quietly occurring on another plane to the mainstream act and I can see that happening with online offerings for exam prep. If this is the core focus of schools, they will be severely affected by this industry and will have to change to survive.
    Let’s all keep reading, reflecting and sharing our views.
    Thanks again.

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