Hong Kong’s ob­ses­sion for the right schools

The Star Malaysia - - Dots - By ANISHA BHADURI

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).

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