The most prominent feature in Hong Kong life and culture is the tension between the people's traditional Chinese respect for authority and conformity, and their need for more flexible and creative problem-solving skills. The two potential changes most often debated are eliminating the total reliance on citywide, standardized examinations for placing students and switching to a more open curriculum that resembles the American model of education, with its broad span of offerings. The government has taken steps to open up the curriculum, but moving to the American 6-3-3-4 system of education (6 years of primary, 3 of junior high, 3 of senior high, and 4 of university) and abolishing "banding" in secondary schools is running into opposition.
Another major reform movement in Hong Kong's educational system involves languages. Hong Kong has begun an intensive campaign to promote "biliterate and trilingual" skills in the curriculum. The first change has been to require most public schools to use Cantonese as the teaching language in primary and secondary schools. Officials believe that students are more comfortable learners when they are taught in their native language. With Hong Kong's heritage of English as the language of commerce, however, educators realize that they have the opportunity to retain and increase the numbers and quality of English speakers so that Hong Kong will remain a center of international finance and trade. To accomplish this goal, the government initiated the NET scheme to recruit 750 native English teacher/coordinators (NETs) for the public schools by the early years of the twenty-first century. The government provides extra funding for schools who hire NETs. The third language requirement comes with the handover of Hong Kong to the People's Republic of China. Mandarin, the language spoken in most of China, is a Chinese dialect not understood by most people in Hong Kong. All the schools now teach Mandarin as a standard course.
The reform that is succeeding with little opposition is the campaign to extend education and use of information technology (IT) from primary schools through universities. As a city without any natural resources, Hong Kong's success is tied to its people's ability to gather and manage information.
The Secretary for Education and Manpower Branch reported that by May 2001 all public supported schools would have computers, and the plan is to supply each primary school with 40 computers and each secondary school with 82 computers. In addition, all secondary and almost all primary schools had Internet access by the spring of 2001. Ultimately, the government wants all publicly supported schools to teach 25 percent of their curriculum through the Internet. To accomplish this, the government has instituted a comprehensive training program for all teachers. By late 2000, 75 percent of the teachers had finished basic information technology training (IT). The goal is to have 75 percent of all teachers trained at the intermediate level by 2002-2003. Another prominent feature of the IT crusade is the online learning tool for public schools and life-long learning projects called Hong Kong Education City. In the spring of 2001, the e-class site listed 294 science courses, 146 language courses, 123 art/music/physical education/vocational/library courses, and 117 social studies courses for students.
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Chee-Cheong, Choi. "Public Examinations in Hong Kong." Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, no. 3, November 1999. Available from http:ehostvgw1.epnet.com.
Cheung, Michael. "Spotlight on Hong Kong: Reading, Writing, and Rote Learning. . .Drive Students to Western Schools." Business Week International Editions, 14 August 2000. Available http://www.businessweek.com/.
Education Commission. HKSAR, March 2001. Available from http://www.e-c.edu.hk/eng/main.html.
Education Department. HKSAR, March 2001. Available from http://www.ed.gov.hk/ednewhp/text_sitemap_link.htm.
Hong Kong Examinations Authority. HKSAR, March 2001. Available from http://www.hkea.edu.hk/.
"Recruiting Students in Asia: Hong Kong: Local and International Education," March 2001. Available from http://home.school.net.hk/üiie/hked/hkeducation.htm.
—John A. Zurlo
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