Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2)1610/98-99
(These minutes have been
seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/PL/ED

LegCo Panel on Education

Minutes of special meeting
held on Monday, 1 February 1999 at 4:30 pm
in Conference Room A of the Legislative Council Building

Members Present :

Hon YEUNG Yiu-chung (Chairman)
Prof Hon NG Ching-fai (Deputy Chairman)
Hon Mrs Selina CHOW LIANG Shuk-yee, JP
Hon CHEUNG Man-kwong
Hon SIN Chung-kai
Hon Andrew WONG Wang-fat, JP

Members Absent :

Hon LEUNG Yiu-chung
Dr Hon YEUNG Sum
Hon Emily LAU Wai-hing, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members Attending :

Hon Cyd HO Sau-lan
Hon Andrew CHENG Kar-foo

Public Officers Attending :

Item I

Mr Raymond YOUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP
Director of Education

Item II

Mr Raymond YOUNG
Deputy Secretary for Education and Manpower

Mrs Fanny LAW, JP
Director of Education

Attendance by Invitation :

The Hon Antony LEUNG, JP
Chairman, Education Commission

Mr TAI Hay-lap
Member, Education Commission

Ms Carol YUEN
Secretary, Education Commission

Clerk in Attendance :

Mrs Constance LI
Chief Assistant Secretary (2) 2

Staff in Attendance :

Mr Stanley MA
Senior Assistant Secretary (2) 6

I. Briefing on the Consultation Document on Aims of Education

1. At the invitation of the Panel Chairman, Chairman of Education Commission (C of EC) briefed Members on the Consultation Document on Aims of Education. He said that as pledged in the Chief Executive's 1997 Policy Address, a comprehensive review of the education system including the academic structure, the curriculum and assessment systems would be conducted. The review was timely and necessary as Hong Kong had undergone rapid changes in the economic, political, social and cultural fronts in recent years, and that the overall quality of education would have to be enhanced to enable Hong Kong to meet the challenges ahead with the advent of the information age.

2. C of EC informed Members that the Education Commission (EC) had in recent years published seven reports and made about 400 recommendations to improve the education system in Hong Kong. Though tremendous efforts had been made by the education sector and Education Department to implement these recommendations, the results had not been encouraging. There was feedback that the main problem lay in the lack of co-ordination in resources and efforts in implementing the many different education initiatives within a short time. It was therefore necessary to re-examine the aims of education with a view to re-prioritizing the various initiatives. The review would be conducted in three stages, and the first stage was to set out the overall aims of education. The Consultation Document on Aims of Education contained proposals on the broad directions in order to stimulate thoughts and interest among members of the public. C of EC stressed the importance of community participation because enhancing the quality of education was the responsibility of every member of the community including educational institutions, educators, parents, students, social workers, employers and the media. He hoped that a consensus could be reached within the community on the aims of education after extensive public consultation.

3. The Chairman declared interest as a member of EC. Considering that different people would have different values and expectations for education, he asked about the principles or criteria adopted for formulating a set of commonly acceptable aims of education. C of EC responded that it would not be appropriate to quantify the aims of education, but EC would carefully consider the views obtained to identify the common causes of dissatisfaction and differences in aspirations. He emphasized that the ultimate aim was to provide the best education to students based on widely accepted principles which were beneficial to Hong Kong's long-term development. This would involve concerted efforts of all stakeholders.

4. Mrs Selina CHOW said that there were comments that the Aims of Education were too abstract or idealistic, and the Consultation Document did not contain any concrete proposal for achieving these objectives. She expressed serious concern that the document did not propose any solution to long-standing problems in education such as the declining English standard of students and the unsatisfactory examination-led system. She was of the view that EC should address these important concerns of the community concurrently.

5. C of EC responded that while parents and other stakeholders might have different concerns, the current review was not intended as a problem-solving exercise but rather to establish the primary objectives and priorities of education. He said that previous EC reviews had endeavoured to find solutions to the various problems identified, but some of these solutions were found conflicting with each other when put to implementation. This time, EC would aim at setting out common goals and re-prioritizing the objectives. He pointed out that education issues were often inter-related and the proposed approach would enable a better co-ordination of policies and resources. After the consultation on Aims of Education, EC would review, among others, the academic structure and the curriculum as these would have significant impact on the examination system.

6. Mr SZETO Wah commented that certain Chinese expressions in the Consultation Document were inappropriate and misleading. He quoted some examples:
should be , should be and urged for early
rectification. C of EC thanked Mr SZETO for his suggestions and undertook to review
the wording to see whether there was a need to make appropriate amendments to the
Chinese text.
C of EC

7. Responding to Mr SZETO's comment that EC should formulate short-term and medium-term targets for the review, C of EC said that EC would discuss with the Education Department (ED) the priorities and implementation timetable after public consultation, the findings of which would be published as soon as possible. Adm

8. Mr SIN Chung-kai questioned the need to have a consensus on the aims of education, since different parents would have different expectations of their children. He also asked whether the proposed Aims of Education had made reference to the seven principles in the 1993 Statement of Aims for school education in Hong Kong. C of EC responded that while parents might have different expectations and the majority would want their children to enter university and earn a decent income, the question was whether the parents' aspirations were the best for our education system and beneficial to Hong Kong's long-term development. He noted there had been criticisms that the present education and examination system had placed too much emphasis on passive learning rather than independent thinking. In view of the recent socio-economic changes, it would be necessary to review our aims of education so as to equip our next generation for the challenges in the 21st century. He said that the proposed Aims of Education had made reference to the 1993 Statement of Aims with regard to recent changes in economy. Director of Education (D of E) added that the current consultation would enable the Administration to assess the needs of different sectors of the community in designing an education system which could provide choices to parents and the necessary talents for the sustainable development of Hong Kong.

9. Mr Andrew WONG remarked that the proposed Aims of Education did not serve any useful purpose since it made no analysis of the existing problems. In his opinion, the crux of the problem lay in the academic structure. He was of the view that school education should be primarily concerned with dissemination of knowledge, moral education, and intellectual and social development of students who should be equipped with the basic skills and knowledge for further self-development. He was strongly opposed to the concept of social engineering or blueprint for education. In his opinion, the system should only aim at making available sufficient choices for parents and students in the pursuit of further studies or vocational development. In this connection, he suggested eight years universal primary education, after which students should be given the choice of continuing education in grammar schools (and the choice of the medium of teaching) or receiving vocational training. He did not agree that education should only aim at "manufacturing" the necessary talents for the community.

10. C of EC responded that the Consultation Document actually proposed an all-round and diversified education rather than vocational training. Mr TAI Hay-lap of EC supplemented that the current consultation had historical significance in that all sectors of the community in addition to educationalists were invited to participate and discuss the future aims of education. With regard to diversified development of education, Mr TAI cited the example of pre-primary education and remarked that there were also deficiencies in such a system.

11. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong declared interest as a member of EC. He expressed concern how the aims of education could be put to practice. In this regard, he warned that conflicts in values and practical considerations could cause difficulties in implementation. Referring to the problematic implementation of the Target-Oriented Curriculum and mother-tongue teaching, Mr CHEUNG was worried that the community might lose confidence in any education reform should the current exercise turn out to be also a failure. He shared the views of Mr SIN that while some baselines could be set for education, the system should provide choices and encourage competition among different modes of education .

12. C of EC said that it was natural for the community to have different views on implementation especially when it came to allocation of resources. The current consultation would provide opportunities for all stakeholders to voice their opinions in the formulation of a common set of objectives of education. This would hopefully reduce disagreement during implementation. He clarified that a student-centred and school-based approach would be adopted in the reform, since students played the major role in the education process. He would welcome monitoring by parents and members of the public in the implementation of these objectives. C of EC also assured Members that EC did not advocate central planning and administration of education and would support diversified development.

13. Mr CHENG Kar-foo said that the Consultation Document was too idealistic and could not address parents' concerns such as the Academic Aptitude Test (AAT), heavy schoolbags and the proposed changes to the university curriculum. He also asked why the paper did not include free or subsidized pre-primary education which had been the request of the community for some time. As a parent, he would like to know how Government could balance the education ideologies with the demands in the community. In this connection, he requested EC to consider extending the period of public consultation to allow more time for expression of opinions on the issues.

14. C of EC acknowledged that certain education issues would require early policy considerations. However, due to resource and time constraints, it would not be possible to solve all problems at the same time. One principal objective of the current consultation on Aims of Education was to assist EC and the Administration to balance the various aspirations of the community and prioritize the education initiatives. He said that the academic structure including the school curriculum and the assessment process would definitely be reviewed at the next stage, as stated in paragraph 1.5 of the Consultation Document. As regards free/subsidized pre-primary education, C of EC said that the issue would require careful consideration particularly with regard to the mode of subvention. Further consultations would be held in the second stage when more concrete proposals were available.

15. Ms HO Sau-lan remarked that while the title of the Consultation Document gave the impression that it was a review on the academic system in Hong Kong, the paper actually proposed a cultural shift and a much wider scope for consultation involving also the media and employers. In this connection, she considered that there should be more publicity that the review was actually a brain-storming exercise. She would also like to know more about the implementation plans.

16. C of EC clarified that the document aimed at stimulating interest and thinking in the community rather than a cultural shift. It was proposed that our education system should enable students to enjoy schooling and learning, to develop creative and independent thinking and to have commitments to their families and society. As regards employers' concerns about the language proficiency of students, he said that more concrete proposals would be developed for public consultation after the community had a consensus on the Aims of Education. It would be pre-mature to discuss implementation plans until then.

17. Mr TAI Hay-lap of EC supplemented that since 1980's, EC and other advisory bodies had made more than 390 recommendations to reform the education system. While these recommendations were well-intentioned, there had been insufficient community participation in the process. Moreover, the education sector was already over-loaded with too many reforms in recent years, which had given rise to problems in co-ordination of efforts and resources. The present Consultation Document was aimed at arousing public interest and enabling community participation with a view to formulating a set of common objectives for the education system in Hong Kong. He stressed that communication and consultation on the rationale behind education policies were important in securing successful implementation of the policies. It was therefore necessary to have sufficient public debate in order to have a consensus on the Aims of Education from the beginning.

18. Mrs Selina CHOW expressed serious reservations about the approach of the Consultation Document which did not specify what the education system could offer to our children. She stressed that education should not aim at imposing rigid standards on our children or transforming them to a standard mode. The concern of the community was how to deliver quality education, as the standard of students had deteriorated over the past years since the introduction of nine-year universal education. For example, the teachers' quality and language proficiency of students were declining. She remarked that the Aims of Education was a safe document in that very few people could disagree with the ideologies even though the contents offered very little to tackle the problems.

19. C of EC noted Mrs CHOW's concerns. He acknowledged that the community had different expectations of the education system and he hoped the public consultation exercise could help identify the common concerns of parents. He said that in the past, various parties had made much efforts to strive for quality education but with limited success. It was high time for Hong Kong to have a new vision of the education system and to re-examine the priorities for education. He emphasized that given the resource and time constraints, it was impossible to solve all problems at one time.

20. Mr SZETO Wah commented that the Consultation Document was too idealistic and somewhat impractical. He considered that any education reform would require detailed analyses and long-term planning, and that Hong Kong education system had been over-loaded with too many changes in recent years. For example, the extension of six year universal primary education to nine-year universal education only took five years to materialize in Hong Kong while the same process took sixty years to complete in Japan. The rapid expansion of tertiary education had also resulted in an over-emphasis of the provision of school places rather than quality education. He suggested that EC should conduct in-depth analyses of the education problems in consultation with parents, schools, teachers, employers and Education Department. He considered that there was no quick and easy solution to the education problems. Mr TAI Hay-lap of EC shared Mr SZETO's concerns and said that EC would carefully evaluate all views and suggestions before formulating the implementation plan.

21. Mr SIN Chung-kai anticipated that there would not be a consensus on education objectives as parents would inevitably have varied expectations. He suggested a supply-led rather than demand-led education system which could provide parents with choices. In devising the future system, there should be opportunities for parents to participate in the decision-making process, by setting up consultative mechanisms similar to the School Boards in the United States of America. Miss HO Sau-lan shared Mr SIN's views and considered that EC and the Administration should consult the end-users before finalizing the implementation plans.

22. Responding to members' concerns, C of EC stressed that the Consultation Document on Aims of Education aimed at arousing interest and discussion in the community about the roles of different stakeholders in the provision of quality education. He assured Members that EC was in support of a quality-based rather than quantity-based system providing a variety of choices to parents. To assist EC in formulating effective proposals for improving the education system, he appealed to all stakeholders including LegCo Members, parents, educators, and commercial/industrial organizations to forward their views to EC by completing the reply slip in the pamphlet or leaving messages through EC's voice mail system, or by any other means convenient to them.

23. Mr SZETO Wah reminded EC that the current review should also take account of the possible influx of children from the Mainland following the recent ruling of the Court of Final Appeal. C of EC noted the comment.

24. The Chairman concluded the briefing by advising Members that discussion of the education reforms would continue within LegCo and the community. He thanked the Chairman and member of EC for the briefing.

II. Proposed creation of a supernumerary AO Staff Grade B post for the Implementation Team of Education Department Review
[Paper No. CB(2)1205/98-99(01)]

25. The Deputy Chairman took over the chair as the Chairman had to leave the meeting due to other commitments.

26. At the invitation of the Deputy Chairman, Director of Education highlighted the salient points in the Administration's paper. She said that in line with the school-based management and further streamlining of the organizational structure, ED would have to undergo some major fundamental changes to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency in providing quality education. In essence, ED would switch from a microscopic approach to a strategic, professional management aiming to assist schools in the implementation of education policies and various improvement initiatives. Both the school curriculum and the structure of ED would need revamping. The major changes would be in the following directions -

  1. to streamline and rationalize the functions and structure of ED to improve co-ordination of internal efforts and resources;

  2. to enhance the professional capabilities of the staff of ED;

  3. to establish a client-based, target-oriented culture within ED; and

  4. to improve the co-ordination and communication with the school sector and other stakeholders so as to respond more effectively to the needs of the partners in education.

27. D of E said that to implement these reforms in ED, an implementation team headed by the Deputy Director of Education (DD of E) had been set up to formulate detailed proposals, establish priorities and draw up a timetable on implementation. It was envisaged that the team would have to co-ordinate with other stakeholders and professional departments in tackling the various complex policy and organizational issues. An additional directorate officer at D3 level would be required for two years to assist D of E and DD of E in monitoring and implementating the reform strategies and communication targets. She said that the staff proposal would be submitted to the Establishment Sub-committee for consideration on 11 February 1999.

28. Mr CHEUNG Man-kwong said that the Democratic Party was in support of the proposed reform and the creation of a D3 post for two years. He stressed that successful implementation of the reform would depend on the co-operation of all divisions and staff in ED. He suggested that the reform should start with an internal review of the work of each division in order to identify policies and procedures which were out-dated, superfluous or bureaucratic for consideration of changes. The streamlining process would also help identify staff resources which could be re-deployed to deal with more important issues of the department. In view of the complexity and sensitivity of the issues involved in the reform, Mr CHEUNG considered that the incumbent of the proposed D3 post must be able to communicate effectively with all stakeholders in the implementation process. He warned that without the support of the staff and all concerned parties, it was unlikely that the reform could be implemented smoothly and successfully.

29. Mr SZETO Wah asked whether the proposed deputy head would be selected by internal promotion or by transfer from other departments. D of E responded that an Administration Officer grade officer would be transferred to ED to take up the post. She agreed with members that the incumbent of the post must possess political sensitivity and be capable of communicating and working with different bureaux, departments and educational bodies involved in the reform.

30. Referring to the Deputy Chairman's comment that an AO might not be familiar with the organization and operation of ED, D of E said that the successful implementation of the reform would depend on the concerted efforts of all divisions in the department. As the job would involve re-structuring and re-engineering of the various functions of ED, it would be necessary for the deputy head to have sound communication and managerial skills and sufficient overall knowledge of Government policies and procedures. An AO grade officer would be a suitable candidate in this respect. She added that DD of E and other members of the implementation team could provide the necessary professional input and advice in the course of implementation.

31. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:30 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
29 March 1999