When I started to serve the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) as Chairman in 1994, the Association had a bare membership of fewer than 100 and now we are celebrating the 55th Anniversary with 350-400 members these years. We must celebrate. Yet how?
I first joined HKAHSS in 1977 and its main concerns and activities were all clustered on matters directly related to our local secondary education of Hong Kong, the very narrow sense of education, little concerns with the society, not to mention politics. With 1997 drawing near, the big margin for Hong Kong's sovereignty to be returned to China, the environments changed. We started to be more social concerned when I, together with the chairmen of several other education bodies, proposed the "Respect Our Teachers Campaign" to commemorate the Pat Sin Leng hill fire. The disaster broke out in 1996, resulting in 13 people seriously injured and 3 students killed. And 2 teachers lost their lives when they tried to save the students. Along with that Campaign, we started to exchange views on how to prepare our students and schools for the 1997 "return to China". The social awareness of HKAHSS has since then taken a much more active turn and we have been doing more as a social advocate. I think this change accounts for the increase in membership and much closer collaboration with the Education Bureau as well as many other organizations.
Educators always like to claim that we are moving forward towards better education amidst the ever-coming challenges. But my reflection has always been on finding the proper things, the right path. It is important not to wilder. Time and circumstances are pressing for us, especially for Hong Kong. HKAHSS cannot afford to be the victim of a shaggy dog story.
We must not be led to wag the dog.
First, let us go to the very basic. Let us face it by asking how effectively we have acted or planned to deal with the following:
- Revise the language policy so that students are fundamentally biliterate (i.e. mastering written Chinese and English) and trilingual (i.e. speaking fluent Cantonese, Putonghua and English)
- Promote cultural integration through education policies
- Promote respect for multiculturalism
- Revise policies and measures affecting education equity
- Amend the current policy on the single promotion assessment for school children of different abilities.
- Give flexibility to provide individual and personalized education opportunities for school children
- Develop students' ability to learn on their own
- Upgrade the professional status of teachers, promote continuous professional development and set the professional ladder of teachers (teachers' career pathway) to attract young people to become professional teachers
- Decentralize, to allow schools to design appropriate education activities according to the sexual ability of different students, and to use grants flexibly as needed
- Provide an effective collaboration platform to share successful education stories
How are we to achieve all these thoroughly, boldly and effectively?
To make situations more muddled, Hong Kong has even more difficult hurdles ahead. The volatile political and social situations that popped up with the social incidents instigated by the Government’s proposal of 2019 Extradition Bill published on March 29, 2019 did not lessen, though the bill was withdrawn on October 23 in the same year. The social and political atmosphere is in a turmoil when the Central Government started to press for the passing of National Anthem Law, legislation for Article 23 of the Basic Law and the most recent hurl when the draft of the Hong Kong National Security Law was passed by the Central Government on May 28, 2020.
As educators, we have to ask and find ways to settle the unsettled minds of our students, to set their ways to enjoy their studies, to promote civic and national education so that our students will be good future masters of Hong Kong. Our students are the ones who will witness and greet the coming of 2047, the year that “one country two systems” will expire. The very initial and basic question for us is, under the present social and political environment, how can we effectively teach our students the very basics, for example, the 6C’s of education ([popup_anything id="927"]), how to teach in the tidal waves of Hong Kong’s present tides of populism, democracy and liberty. We must bear in mind that human resources are the only factor to keep Hong Kong alive. In the meantime, Hong Kong’s comparative advantage over Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other China cities is ebbing. In fact, we do not look good when compared with our neighbours ([popup_anything id="930"]).
Things are getting sour for us. The Gini-coefficient for 2016 published in 2017 is 0.539 for households. The richest households earned 44 times more than the poorest households. Hong Kong is the world’s second most unequal city after New York.
What is the way forward for HKAHSS? Are we to play safe or to keep our role as key opinion leader and education advocate? Is the latter role too demanding and challenging? Maybe conformity is safer. But is it better not to zig when you should zag? Can we wait or should we wait till the sky is clearer? On the other hand, should we, as educators, act as a peace agent for Hong Kong? How can we offer for advancement of Hong Kong’s education in this extremely critical point of time?
Let’s not wait. Hong Kong’s latest fundamental review of the education system was as way in the past when the Education Commission Report No. 7 was published in 1997, that is 23 years ago. So much has happened within 23 years in this ever-changing world!
Let us enhance our own professional qualities and act at the same time. Albert Einstein said, "We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them."
Truly, times ahead may be difficult and challenging. But we must keep our education conscience to strive the best for Hong Kong’s education. Let’s hold on together and keep to our profession fervently. Love isn’t about holding hands during the happy times, it is about not letting go during the difficult times.
Never give up. “For a living dog is better than a dead lion.” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
Lu Xun 魯迅 also said, "In fact, there is no road on the ground, more people walk, it has become the road." Let’s not apostatize!
Let me conclude by quoting W. B. Yeats, “I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”
Note: the contents are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HKAHSS.