Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Of Babies and Bath Water

This past Sunday a woman threw her daughter over the seventh floor rail at a shopping mall and then climbed the rail and jumped to her own death while her husband and other shoppers watched in horror. Luckily or perhaps unluckily the little girl landed on safety netting and was physically unhurt. I would not want to have to deal with the emotional damage this incident caused the child.

The SCMP, assuming it can be believed, says today that the reason for this was that the child had failed to get into an ESF (The English Schools Foundation) school after completing the ESF kindergarten. The Standard has an article up about how the rails and balustrades at malls need to be higher, which while probably true misses the point.

Many schools in Hong Kong have Kindergartens that accept more students than they can enroll into the 1st Grade. The one I work for is that way, so are most of the International Schools. ESF is evidently no different, though you could make a good case that it should be. ESF is the English speaking public school system in Hong Kong. They get huge government subsidies but still charge through the roof tuition. They were setup by the colonial aristocracy to provide a school environment similar to the one that existed in the formerly Great Britain which is now the UK. That way a civil servant from “Merry Old England” could come to deepest darkest Hong Kong, and not have to worry about putting their simpering, monolingual brats in schools where they would have excessive contact with the children of the benighted, slant-eyed, tofu eating locals. Separate but unequal, the true spirit of Britain! At least Americans tried to maintain an illusion of separate but equal back in their more overtly racist education policy days. The result is that unlike the, supposedly more exclusive private, international schools which cater to the wealthy or more overtly religious ESF does not, or should not need the money spinner that Kindergartens are to supplement finances. They should be a through system, just like the Chinese speaking schools. That is not the view that the ESF teachers and administration have of themselves but it is effectively what they are.

But, I digress; or maybe not.

The real issue is that the local population sees that the Chinese speaking schools are underfunded, understaffed and to this observer basically uncared about by the EDB boot-lickers, Shoe-Shine Boys and Running Dogs for the now departed colonial regime. I cannot blame the local parents for wanting to get their kids out of a classroom that has a 44 to 1 teacher student ratio. The Chinese language schools curriculum consists of mainly memorizing and repeating it back and seems to be designed to create graduates who are marginally literate, follow the rules and don't ask questions of their betters. Sort of an intellectual vomitoria rather than a school.

It does not take a genius to realize that if you want your child to have a chance of a better life than living in cramped, noisey and unattractive government housing and working as a sales clerk or waitress they might need a little better education. I cannot blame parents for not wanting to place their child in a local school. That does not excuse what this mother did but does make it understandable. There are fates worse than death and spending  the rest of your life working 18 hours a day in a menial job may be one of them.

Granted, the parents here many times push their kids too hard. Granted, the parents here have expectations for their children's education and abilities that are far above what could called rational or reasonable. Granted, the purpose of an education is not simply to get a better job. But, the real blame for this tragedy falls at the feet of the EDU who have consistently refused to reduce class size in the Chinese schools or improve the curriculum.

The over funded ESF and a few of the so called “Elite English Schools” which are also government funded  soak massive amounts of money while the majority of local schools are ignored. The EdB simply, and obvioulsy if you look at the budget does not care about the educational needs of the poor and less fortunate in Hong Kong. They have refused to install anything approaching a child centered curriculum. The government has also aided and abetted the unscrupulous tycoons who have created a working environment here that is so oppressive that parents regularly work 80 or 90 hour a week to make enough to not starve. Can you blame a parent wanting better than that for their child? Can you blame them for thinking that perhaps if my child works harder now they won't have to slave away in a restaurant kitchen for 18 hours a day?

Parents realize how bad the Chinese schools are. Even the teachers in the local schools realize how bad the schools are. That is a shame because unlike say the US or UK most of the problems in HK schools are not related to a decaying social structure. The problem here is simply one of curriculum and access to a quality education. The Hong Kong Government could fix the problems in the Chinese schools but simply doesn’t. Instead it builds a useless high speed rail link that will allow the THBT and his cronies to have lunch with members of the Shoe-Polish brigade in Guangzhou every other day.

So, Mr Michael M Y Suen, Secretary for Education, how hard is it to wash that blood off your hands? Do you even notice it is there?

Until Next Time
Fai mao
The Blogger who thinks all Hong Kong children, not just the British ones deserve a decent education


Sam said...

Well, since you work in a school I guess you're the expert, but our son attends a local primary school and we pulled our primary school daughter out of ISF and put her in a local private school. Yes, the local schools are weak on creativity and PE, but our kids' Chinese and math are both excellent and they're happy in school, which was definitely not the case in the international schools they attended.

Anonymous said...

Well, since you work in a school I must bow to your expertise, but in my family's case our two primary school children are both much happier now in local schools (one public, one private, both "Band One") than they ever were in the international schools we pulled them out of. It's true that they probably lag behind in creative skills and PE, but their Chinese, math and overall demeanor, consideration for others and self-control are streets ahead of their international school contemporaries.

Fai Mao said...

I don't disagree with you, you kind of make my point.

Indeed, the International schools could be stronger in this way.

But, the reason the local school are good in science and math is that those are verticle subjects that build concept upon concept. That sort of thing is easier to each than a subject that requires thinking skills.

However, you very often find that the local graduates reach a sort of glass ceiling because they know what they know but cannot figure out anything they haven't done before.

The verticle strucure of the subjects is why you sometimes see prodigies in science, math or music but almost never in feilds like literature or history. Younger children tend to find a verticle subject that has clear true or false answers much easier to master.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I understand your point about verticality in learning and am concerned that my children may hit a "glass ceiling" at some point, but I also have a sneking suspicion that much, but perhaps not all, of the "thinking skills" and "whole child" theory is a culturally-laden concept embraced by self-regarding Westerners.