“Is Educationalisation of Social Problems a Way Out?” – Education is not an instant fix for all social problems

MingPao 19-Apr-2018
By Chan Shin Kwan,
Executive Committee member of The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools


“Is Educationalisation of Social Problems a Way Out?” – Education is not an instant fix for all social problems 中文原文

In May 2017, the Education Bureau released the long awaited Secondary Education Curriculum Guide to replace the old guides published by the Curriculum Development Council back in 2002 (for primary schools) and 2009 (for secondary schools).  Baptized by the education reform, Hong Kong education sector has experienced so much change in the past decade and we all look forward to the release of such an important document.  The document does seem to live up to its promise of being “substantial” – with 15 booklets in the first volume and eight more hefty documents on the various KLA – when printed, the documents would stack up to several feet high. However, the discussion that followed its release was startlingly insubstantial.  Public discussion merely focused on two limited topics, including the decision to make Chinese History a compulsory subject and the implementation of Basic Law education.

Why?  We can only surmise that this document has not lived up to its promise.  Even though it claims to “Sustain, Deepen and Focus”, it actually cannot provide a new vision for Hong Kong’s six-year secondary school education. After reading the document that is several feet thick, one is dazzled by the summary table which shows a rainbow arch that supports the government’s vision.  In 1 education system, we have: Learn to Learn 2+, 3 Components (core subjects, electives, other learning experiences), 4 Key Tasks, 5 Essential Learning Experiences, 6 Renewed Emphasis, 7 Learning Goals, 8 KLA, 9 Core Competencies…in order to ‘manufacture’ perfect educators who will nurture students with perfect 10 scores.

When the new curriculum guide was first launched by EDB, principals attending the briefing session expressed worries that both students and teachers would not be unable to handle the ever-expanding curriculum.  On 6th July 2017, Dr. Stanley Ho from The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools released an article on Ming Pao titled “What kind of Curriculum do Hong Kong students need to prepare for their future?”  He pointed out four major problems in the new curriculum guide: too many directions, too many stringent limits posed, too little learning space and the inability to provide solutions to the present education problems.  What is even more worrying than these apparent problems are the underlying assumptions our policy makers revealed in the document.

In 2008 a number of international scholars including Paul Smeyers edited and published a book titled “Educational Research: the Educationalization of Social Problems”.  The book discussed the phenomenon that in the process of western modernization, education was gradually viewed as an elixir, a quick fix to social problems. In Hong Kong, a common notion would be to use education to solve public hygiene problems, road safety problems, smoking and drug problems.

The new secondary school curriculum guide reflects this kind of ideology.  In face of different social problems, education cannot escape from shouldering all responsibilities: if our young people lack direction in life, we need to teach them life planning; if Hong Kong does not have creative industries, we need to teach students entrepreneurship and nurture talents.  Therefore the curriculum in Hong Kong needs to cover everything: from the intangible shaping of attitudes to value education, to the more tangible contents including Basic Law, Chinese History and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education.  Students need to learn EVERYTHING; if teachers cannot teach all in time, students need to master self-learning.  Hong Kong society is terribly complex and one can hardly predict what problems we would encounter.  But our culture excels in quick adaptation and flexibility.  Our curriculum thus needs to include everything in case anything happens.

Paul Smeyers points out in his book that in a knowledge society that gets increasingly complex, educators and researchers need to re-examine the Educationalisation of Social Problems and the real functions of education.  If we borrow his views and look at our local context, our latest curriculum guide has opted to chase after all the social problems and has not focused on how to tackle education issues and problems.  The core discussion, for all curriculum documents, is to scrutinize what our education system should seek to nurture so that our next generation can actualize themselves and contribute to society. Even though the document does address the challenges Hong Kong face, and make references to international discussion on the 21st century competencies, it lacks the participation and in-depth discussion of local educators. The few pages devoted to such a discussion are not enough to convince educators that this is a well thought out, visionary document well-supported by public consensus.

The education reform that started in 2000 encouraged schools to develop their school based curriculum and principals embraced their roles as curriculum leaders. Now, as we face such a packed curriculum with multitude curriculum aims, one is bound to lose focus.  Principals need to resist the pressure to follow directives and exercise their professionalism and prioritize what is worth doing in order for our schools to develop healthily.  As educators who know our local needs and think with international perspectives, we build a better society by finding out how our students may learn in a deeper, personalized and meaningful way.  What a pity that this heavy curriculum guide cannot shed light on our paths.

Curriculum is the core of education.  Curriculum contents, the targeted competencies and the inherent values shape our culture.  It is the source of our soft power and integral to Hong Kong.  We do not expect education to solve social problems.  Education should focus on what it does best: how to nurture talents and what kind of talents.  If every Hong Kong student is able to unleash his or her potentials by getting the best education that fits their needs, we should have the talents to solve our social problems quite readily.

The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (AHSS) has always been concerned about various education issues and has conducted surveys, held conferences and written articles and proposals to EDB and the Chief Executive.  In January this year AHSS held “Hong Kong Education Colloquium: Vision 2047” at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre in which different stakeholders who care about Hong Kong’s education listen to one another.  Local and international scholars exchanged their views and discussed possible insightful suggestions.  During the colloquium, Professor Edward Chen suggested a good future leader must be a “Renaissance Man”, a person who is able to master and bridge the chasm of disciplines. This view, for instance, aims to nurture talents that are more sophisticated than being just competent. We certainly need to reflect on what kind of curriculum our future generation needs as they will live in a society where artificial intelligence can replace certain human functions.

Education is not an instant fix for all social problems.  The primary purpose of education is not meant to solve social problems.  If we can design and implement a curriculum that suits our children’s needs and thus nurture future generations that can be better than us, educationalisation of social problems will not be an issue.  Up to now the Secondary School Education Curriculum Guide is still a “provisional draft”, and we hope our government would be willing to listen and accept advice from different people and make use of the collective wisdom in the final version. Then we still have a ray of hope.

明報 19-4-2018


教育不能一下子解決社會所有問題 English version


2017年5月教育局推出醞釀多年的中學教育課程指引,以取代課程發展議會2002年小一至中三與及2009 年的高中課程指引,物換星移,十多年來香港教育界經歷了教改的洗禮,一份如此重要的文件,本應叫人引頸以待。推出後厚厚一大疊,單是指引小冊子(連分冊)已有十五本,還有相繼推出的八大學習領域課程更新文件,列印出來足有數呎高。但教育界對如此有份量的文件的討論卻少得讓人訝異,絕大部分的討論只圍繞基本法教育及中史訂為初中必修科目這兩個課題。



2008年一眾國際學者包括比利時學者保羅.斯梅耶斯(Paul Smeyers)編撰了教育研究:社會問題教育化(Educational Research: the Educationalisation of Social Problems),討論了在西方現代化過程中,教育被逐漸視作解決社會問題的妙藥。在香港,我們熟悉的例子包括教育可幫助解決公眾衛生問題、道路安全問題、吸煙和吸毒問題等。

新的中學教育課程指引正正反映了這種思維,在面對各種社會問題,教育似乎責無旁貸。青年人沒有方向,就要加強生涯規劃教育,香港社會沒有創新工業,就要教創意創業,培養人才。所以課程什麼都要涵蓋,從無形的個性塑造、價值觀培養,到實質課程如基本法、中國歷史、STEM 教育等,同學什麼都要學,老師教不及的同學自學。香港社會問題多,未來問題未知,但港產特色是轉數快,所以課程要包羅萬有,從一數到十,隨時候命。

斯梅耶斯的書中提出在日趨複雜的知識型社會,教育學者及研究均要再檢視社會問題教育化與及教育的真正功能。借鏡看香港,作為一份指引我們未來十年學生學甚麼的課程文件,並沒有專注回應專屬教育範疇的問題,而是追趕萬千的社會問題及現象。對課程來說, 最核心的討論應是香港教育要培養一個怎樣的人,讓新一代可以成就自己,貢獻社會。這份課程文件固然有簡述香港面臨的挑戰,也參考國際對二十一世紀人才素養的討論,但欠缺了的是本地教育界的深入討論及參與。短短數頁羅列各所需能力,並未能說服教育工作者這是經深思、具遠見、有共識的香港教育願景 。



香港中學校長會多來一直關注這些議題,曾進行全港問卷調查、舉辦校長研討會,也多次撰寫建議書向特首及教育當局進言。剛在一月會展舉辦「教育論壇:2047」,聯繫了關心香港教育的海外及本地學者及教育持分者,一起討論,互相聆聽,尋求有洞見的方向性建議。會上陳坤耀教授提出未來好的領袖必須是一個「文藝復興人」,是一個能跨科別融會貫通的通才。這觀點比能力導向課程層次更高, 在人工智能已能取代人類部份能力的未來社會,課程如何更能幫助學生成才、為香港作育英材,讓人深思。

教育不能一下子解決社會所有問題,教育設計也不應以解決社會問題作出發。但如能設計和落實適切的課程、辦好教育,將能培育更多比我們更優秀的青少年,解決社會問題就不會成為教育的單一任務 。《中學教育課程指引》推出至今仍是一份「擬定稿」,冀望有關部門能多接納社會上不的建言,匯聚集體智慧,在落實定稿時,能還香港教育一個希望。