Friday, 18 March 2016

Statement of the Generation: 02 The Possibilities of Education

Statement of the Generation: 02 The Possibilities of Education
Translated by Chen-t'ang 鎮棠, edited by Stephen Lai and Ryan L., written by The Undergrad session 2015, HKUSU

[DIRECTORY: AT THE END]

So, we are well-trained.

Education and training are two completely different concepts. Training focuses on ‘How’; education focuses on ‘Why’. Training enables us to complete a task; education enables us to determine what we should do. Training is drilling over and over again a set of model answers; education is discovering the answer while you’re learning from the books. Education is less rigid than training and there should give us more possibilities in education.

But when we talk about possibilities in Hong Kong, what are we talking about? We think we only have three possibilities in choosing a university; we choose what we read from limited possibilities: Medicine or Law are the top picks, but Pharmaceutics or Dentistry will make do. Only disciplines that come with a good expected outlook in terms of salary are possibilities. For those who are okay with numbers, a Business degree is also a possibility. These are the so-called possibilities that are presented to us.

The French sociologist Émile Durkheim once said,
Education is the influence exercised by adult generations on those that are not yet ready for social life. Its object is to arouse and to develop in the child a certain number of physical, intellectual and moral states which are demanded of him by both the political society as a whole and the special milieu for which he is specifically destined.
Education is always a way for the State to control Society. Hong Kong’s twelve-year compulsory education system keeps students at school five days a week, ten months a year. We are completely protected and monitored by the schools, carrying out all the so-called “constructive tasks” day by day. The State’s quest for control goes beyond the school-hours and children are demanded to take part in activities sanctioned by Society so no trouble would be caused. When we were small, we were asked to either stay at school or at home. So these are the two main places determining our upbringing. When the education system in Hong Kong makes exams its ultimate objective, schools only encourage an exam-oriented way of learning for the sake of their reputations, rankings and the expectations from the parents. An uniform and rigid curricular creates a singular mainstream value, assimilates non-mainstream values in Society and imposes these values on us. We are asked not to discover things that are not within the syllabus because these do not make us get better grades.

The education in Hong Kong has become a means to tame our children. Education no longer attaches importance to  people’s urbanity, but becomes the medium to instill knowledge.

When the ABC song was ‘A for apple, B for boy, C for cat’, words for things they would encounter in life but the ABC song is now ‘A for astronaut, B for barbarian, C for chimpanzee’. These kids might not dream to become astronauts but they (were made to) believe that if they know complicated words, they would not be unlettered. They might not even see a real chimpanzee in the zoo in their entire childhood.

When the aim of learning a language is no longer to promote mutual cultural exchange but to stand out in exams and interviews, what kind of children do we expect this education system to nurture? Also, for the sake of enrolment in so-called prestigious schools, parents will enrol their children in strangest of extra-curricular activities. Is it not the greatest of ironies that children do not join interest classes out of interest? From the moment they begin to walk, every step HK’s children takes is carefully calculated for the grand design of the future.

Stepping back a little, let’s have a look at the secondary school students in Hong Kong. The number of candidates for the science stream in public exams always exceed that of the humanities’ must take the compulsory subject - Chinese language. The exam paper for this subject is known as the “fatal exam paper” as candidates often perform abysmally in comprehension and writing. What could possibly be the reasons for this?

The kids nowadays are not good at subjects without formulae. Kids can read every words from the passage but they do not know the reasoning behind. They know how to write but we lack the corresponding emotions and wordings. Words are no longer used to pass on the cultural torch or promote exchange but as a means to tackle exams. We no longer crave knowledge but only the techniques for exams. This had lead to the popularity of cram schools. As a social phenomenon, cram schools is something worthy of reflection by the community.

  • Firstly, education becomes commercialized. With the exam-oriented education system, those who attend tutorial school will know the game rules better, and have a higher chance to get into universities. Your certificate affects your job application, and thus further causes inter-generational poverty. Education justifies the unfairness in society.

  • Secondly, the mode of these tutorial classes are questionable. In order to maximize the profit, the number of students for a tutorial class far exceeds the number of students for an actual school’s daytime class. The "tutors" mostly appear in DVDs. With these constraints, students are not encouraged to ask questions. We are afraid of asking silly questions and embarrassing ourselves in front of a group, not to mention questioning the formulae taught in classes. If we have questions, we will sort out ourselves instead of asking these tutors. We are afraid of mistakes and not fitting into the group.
  • Thirdly, the formulaic teaching is to blame too. Tutors will even say there are a set of answering rules to follow for humanities subjects. Even personal emotions can be expressed in formulaic ways. Imagine one day when you turn over an exam paper: instead of asking you to prove a theory, the first question asked how can you apply it in daily lives. The results might be tragic.

Once I saw a quote, "Kids are unique, but where do those banal adults come from?" When asked of books they like, most will answer designated books from the subject curriculum.

In the New Senior Secondary Curriculum, there is Liberal Studies subject. Students might need to study conservation, but how many will go to heritages on their own feet? Students might need to study the political system of Hong Kong, but how many will go to vote once they reach 18? Exams lead us to certain topics, then we will study those topics, and choose to recite those answers which can bring high marks to us. It is just like Pavlov's Dog experiment [translator's note: I guess English readers know this, I'll just skip it].

You might think you are the experimenter, but one day, you realize you are actually a Guinea pig in this huge experiment, and you know how ironic it is. Finally you made it into the college, but the society now tells you your DSE certificate is only an entrance ticket - without it, you certainly cannot get into unis; even with it, the queue is as long as Nathan Road.

Despite our youth receiving higher education, this education has not given them that promised cutting edge in the labour market. Social mobility is constrained. There is a lack of opportunity for us to work as middle-class. We strive a long way, but there is a glass ceiling. Most of the time our degrees might not be related to what we do, but employers insist on aN unnecessary certificate.. Because a certificate does not only mean skill acquisition, but also acquisition of the way of living required by the society, such as going to work on time, completing tasks given, obeying orders without making messes etc. So when undergraduates are using rather radical means to express their demands, the society will say "students are not studying but messing around". But they will not understand, these demands exist because of studying. Because we care about the society, we are able to have independent value judgement, we have so sufficient moral courage that we even dare to take the blame and join those thankless protests and actions. But in Hong Kong, the goal of education means domestication, instead of having one's own idea and opinion, so we became "bad students messing around".

Of course, entering colleges is but an ideal hypothesis. There are limited seats in colleges under UGC. Those who failed to get UGC-funded seats have to apply for associate degrees, self-financing degrees and so on. What comes with their graduation is their college loans, but the chance they can get back into universities is slim. They felt sorry as they have brought heavy financial burden to their families. They have tried their best, but they do not know what (else) can they do. In turn, no matter you want to follow the rules obediently or to fight for a better system in this society, we will not end up in a better destination. What is pathetic or lamentable is, spoon-fed Hong Kong students performed well in PISA, so the society will not reflect on the long term development after our exams.

The education in Hong Kong is distorted: Kindergarten is no different from high school as infants who have only just learned how to hold a pen are already finding it necessary to attend cram school. Conversely university is “kindergartenised” when university holds "parent's day" and provides a reply slip on the notice. We receive education, but we become the educated illiterate who are not used to independent thinking, and eventually do not know how to have independent thinking. From the moment we were born we were doomed to a struggle within this dead alley of “education”.

So, we are well-trained, but we are not well-educated.

How can we, who do not even comprehend the definition of the word “possibilities” imagine a future? Changes in the educational system are not made in a day, but we can begin with the following:

  1. Students should proactively explore knowledge beyond the syllabus and curriculum and read extensively.
  2. Interest classes should be the students’ initiative and not parents’ command;
  3. The Education Bureau (and HKEAA) should avoid making humanities subjects too formulaic. There should not be a model answer nor a marking scheme, but to evaluate the overall standard of the students. That can alleviate the tutorial class frenzy.
  4. Society should not determine the future of students with public exam results. The government should provide more skill-oriented courses, which are widely recognized, to provide more options for the younger generation.
Statement of the Generation

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