Hong Kong’s obsession for the right schools
WHAT’S in schooling? Well, what’s in good schooling? Plenty, in fact, everything, Hong Kong parents would unhesitatingly shout from rooftops. Or, perhaps they would not bother to, incredulous that such a question could even be contemplated.
After housing, schooling seems to be the principal preoccupation of the territory where parents start worrying about a child’s academic future even before it is born.
Tiger mums have been known to discuss pre-school pedagogy with a ferocity usually associated with corporate takeovers, and plan their toddlers’ academic roadmap with such attention to detail that it borders on the obsessive. Sociologists tell us it is.
So, what does that tell us about Hong Kong parents? Plenty, in fact, everything.
Why does schooling in Hong Kong merit such obsessive attention? Primarily because of a preference for English-medium instruction among the upwardly mobile strata and, secondly, poor faith in the government-subsidised local education system.
Demand abounds but supply is entirely at the discretion of, on one hand, elite local schools which charge very low or no fees but are extremely difficult to enter and, on the fee-charging side, Direct Subsidy Scheme schools in the local school system, schools run by the English Schools Foundation, international schools and private independent schools.
What makes the situation complicated is parental prejudice against schools not deemed elite enough (or good enough) and, in my humble opinion, an unclear understanding of what might work best for an individual child.
I have also observed that, when it comes to educating children, Hong Kong parents defer to peer pressure more than to an objective evaluation of their children’s needs. It must be said that in Hong Kong society, there is also an arriviste element to sending ones children to expensive schools. I have known parents to brag about their ability to afford prohibitive tuition in their children’s presence. Just as I have known parents to ruthlessly criticise teachers or caregivers in their children’s presence.
Needless to say, such patent lack of good manners will easily manifest in the next generation, who will – whether they know their Oscar Wilde or not – certainly grow up knowing the price of everything but the value of precious little.
The main grouse that Hong Kong parents have against the local school system is the perceived burden of homework and a culture of rote learning. It would be wrong to form and perpetuate such a blanket opinion – the regime differs from school to school and not every school, elite or not, is unduly hung up on mindless homework or rote learning.
As the mother of a 10-year-old who attends a local primary school, I can tell that for every principal who is trying to liberalise the system by moving towards a less homework-intensive regime, there are 50 parents who decry idleness in children and demand more homework.
I am also mystified by numerous parents’ insistence that a good grounding in English can only be had at elite/expensive schools. In a city with one of the world’s most robust public-library systems, what’s stopping a child from developing an interest in the English language outside the classroom?
Love for a language can be kindled in the classroom – but also by books, films and people – but one must make personal efforts to cultivate it. The greatest teachers of any language are waiting to be discovered between covers of books or in CDs/DVDs ignored in favour of soul-deadening cyber games.
Whose responsibility is it to wean the children off such fixations and take them on a journey of delightful self discovery?
Also, what’s with this parental tendency to racially tinge the whole business of English private tuition in Hong Kong? What kind of prejudices are parents and the private tuition industry trying to perpetuate in Asia’s “World City” by linking ethnicity with English lessons?
That Hong Kong suffers from a colonial hangover is understandable but what is not is the wilful cultivation of antediluvian sensibilities. Don’t they come in the way of raising global citizens?
Mark Twain may have fallen out of favour in the breathlessly wired Hong Kong but here is what he is rumoured to have said a century ago: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
In their obsession for elitist schooling, Hong Kong parents will do well not to undermine the education of their children. — China Daily/Asia News Network
What makes the situation complicated is parental prejudice against schools not deemed elite enough (or good enough).