HKAHSS’s Recommendations for the Chief Executive Policy Address 2022
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS)
13 September 2022
[Contents of this letter in Chinese was sent to the Chief Executive on 13 September 2022. Copies have also been sent to:
Convenor of the Non-Official Members of the Executive Council of Hong Kong,
Secretary for Education,
Chairman and Members of the Panel on Education, Legislative Council, and
Chairman and Members of the Education Commission.]
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) is a professional body which aims to enhance the education quality of Hong Kong to benefit our youth and society as a whole. We therefore have been contributing our views on education and youth policies from time to time. On 14 April 2022, we sent in our proposal on education to Mr. John Lee, the sole candidate for the Chief Executive election, titled “Hong Kong’s Education – Present Constraints and Future Prospects” in which we shared our views on how to turn challenges into opportunities for further development of education in Hong Kong. Contents of the submission can be found through the following link :
We are happy to see in Mr. Lee’s election manifesto that enhancement of ‘the overall competitiveness’ and ‘upward mobility for our youths’ have been included as important components of the Four Tenets. He has also promised to formulate a comprehensive youth policy and a youth development blueprint with different policy targets for healthy and diverse youth development. In Mr. Lee’s recent consultation sessions related to the formulation of Policy Address 2022, he expressed very grave concern over the brain drain and would try to ‘scramble’ for talents. Perhaps such a scramble can help solve urgent needs temporarily. Yet, as front-line education workers, we strongly believe that the more downright and profound strategy is to nurture, respect and sustain our own talents.
The trying period of the recent years has put the education ecology and healthy development of our younger generation in jeopardy and this warrants the government’s serious attention. We therefore would like to raise the following issues for the government’s consideration when formulating the forthcoming Policy Address.
- Capitalizing the drop in student population into opportunity for the development of quality education
The changes in population structure of Hong Kong due to ageing, the drop in birth rate and departure tide have very far-reaching impacts on the social development and education system in Hong Kong. With the drop in student population, the possibility for school closures or mergers will bring about great perturbation to teachers and students. Stability in the education ecology is the corner stone for healthy schools which will ensure a safe and comfortable environment in which students can learn and grow as well as build up meaningful relationship and sense of belonging. These qualities should be nurtured, treasured and safeguarded by the government. Yet, it is a pity that the government has not been paying enough attention to this or putting any constructive strategies in place.
To well manage and capitalize on the opportunities arising from the drop in student population, we propose the following:
- Before the commencement of 2022-2023 school year, front-line education workers proposed to the government to keep the number of classes in Hong Kong at the 2021-2022 provision with flexible adjustment to be made according to the student population on district basis. Yet, the government has not responded timely nor taken any concrete measures. We would therefore reiterate that the government should take immediate action and freeze the current number of classes for 5 years. Besides, the government should stop operating new schools or allocating sites for new schools except for school relocation.
- The government should capitalize on the arising opportunity to improve the quality of education through refining the teacher-student ratio. The reduced class size will facilitate greater interactive learning strategies, more vibrant student-teacher and student-student interactions to enhance learning efficacy. This will also result in better care for students’ needs and diversities through individualized guidance and tailored programmes.
- The government should create space for teachers to build up transformative energy so that schools will have ample human resources and knowledge to develop new and innovative projects such as STEM and AI curriculum, IT in Education, National Education, the Rule of Law and Law-related Education, the collaboration between universities and secondary schools, promotion of healthy campus and other headway projects.
- All along, the secondary education in Hong Kong has been implemented under the stringent official curriculum framework. Yet, if we aim to develop and nurture talents for today and tomorrow, the curriculum should change with more forward-looking planning as well as individualized design in learning and teaching. The drop in student population has provided good opportunities to try out more proactive and innovative endeavour. We can also take reference of the good practices in other more advanced education systems. All these will help bring in new mindset and elements in education without incurring extra educational resources.
- Creating facilitative environment for a healthy school campus
The aim of education is to nurture each and every student to ensure that they will have a happy and mentally healthy life, which is facilitative to their self-actualization in the long run. Yet, it is a pity that according to the figures in 2020 and 2021 from Suicide Press Database, there are 60 suicide cases amongst youth aged 19 or under. The number and frequency are indeed very appalling. Different reports on the same issue all reveal the soaring number of youth suicide cases. Even one case is already too many and it is heart-breaking to see the ending of young lives. Besides non-governmental efforts, what has the government done to solve the problems?
Besides the suicide problems, students’ emotional and mental health conditions are equally worrisome. According to the data released by the Hospital Authority in 2021, the number of new cases in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Division reached 11,069. Over 10,000 of these new cases which are classified as non-urgent, the waiting time is a bit more than 5 years on average. Without timely medical attention and care, the situation will further deteriorate. If no concrete mitigating or relief measures are in place in time, the situation will be going further downhill with a very heavy social cost.
Without ample government attention and support on students’ mental health, front-line teachers, as guardian for students, are now shouldering the heavy load of care. Yet, most in the teaching force are not trained with such specific medical knowledge. Without proper professional support, pressure on them is increasingly looming and this is extremely undesirable.
In face of the frequent suicide cases and the ‘tsunamic’ deterioration of mental health, we have the following suggestions:
- The government should shoulder the responsibility in coordinating efforts with the medical, social welfare and education professions to conscientiously study and plan for students’ emotional education. It should plan according to real needs to provide sufficient manpower and resources for relevant measures for issues identified.
- Some years ago, the government set up the Committee on Prevention of Student Suicides in response to the rising cases of student suicides. While the government fully accepted the report by the Committee which was released in November 2016, no marked improvement has been seen as no concrete actions have been in place. The government should reinstitute the Committee, expand its scope of work so that it would conduct comprehensive researches on the mental health conditions of both students and teachers and come up with targeted measures.
- We all know that prevention is important. Yet, the treatment for students with mental problems to prevent suicide cases are equally important. The government should further allocate resources to the Hospital Authority to shorten the waiting time for help to be offered to needy students. For instance, the scope and number of services of the Student Mental Health Support Scheme which was set up in 2016-17 should be further expanded for more effective protection and support for students at risk.
- The former government has planned to set up District Health Centres in each district. So far, as seen from those centres set up or to be set up in Kwai Tsing, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Tuen Mun, Southern and Yuen Long, the core serving team does not include psychiatric professionals. Also, these local networks do not have professionals for mental health services, such as psychiatrists or mental health counsellors for youth. The government should ensure that these district health centres will offer mental health services. They should also seek close collaboration with schools so as to provide timely assistance to students on recovery and those who display mild symptoms. At the same time, services and assistance should be provided to teachers and parents.
- Student mental health issues are not just only induced by the COVID-19 challenges. The keen competition of the education system in Hong Kong has been overloading students and thus generating a lot of pressure and anxiety, especially in their secondary school years. The government should work in collaboration with the education profession to scrutinize the school curriculum, assessment arrangements as well as further study pathways so that appropriate improvements can be made in time.
- Respecting Teachers’ profession and attracting talents to join the teaching force
Teachers play a pivotal role in education and they are the gatekeepers for the care of our youth. In the last few years, front-line teachers have been standing tall on professionalism in helping students through challenges one after another while also striving to maintain the education quality. Yet, it is so unfortunate that there are still smearing and malicious attacks which are greatly detrimental to the harmonious and efficacious school environment. Teachers’ morale is seriously hampered and many choose to leave the profession. Based on documents presented in the Legislative Council in May 2022, a local Chinese newspaper (Mingpao) reported on 25 August 2022 that the seriousness of talent drain in the teaching force should not be taken for granted. It also reported on the increase in the registration of ‘Permitted Teachers’ (teachers without formal teacher training). This clearly reflects the actual situation in schools about the failure in recruiting sufficient teachers with proper training. So either the teaching load of the vacant posts is shared amongst serving teachers or to be taken up by untrained teachers on contract basis. This is undesirable especially for schools in remote areas or taking in students with huge learners’ diversities. It is therefore hard for schools to agree to the comment that ‘school operation is generally normal’.
To give due respect and recognition to teachers and attract more talents, we suggest:
- The government should probe into the source of stress on teachers and devise corresponding relief measures. It is only through this so that teachers can nurture students in a safe and favourable environment.
- The government should conduct a survey in the teaching profession so as get a clear picture of their qualifications and experiences, changes and reasons for exits. It can then plan to attract more talents and adjust the different teacher training courses and quota realistically according to the actual needs.
- The government should maintain good communication with the education sector before devising and implementing new measures. Through professional exchanges with front-line workers, the government will be able to assess the needs accurately and get comments from capable and critical friends. At the same time, the communication and consultation process will ensure efficacy and practicability of new measures.
- While exercising its regulatory and monitoring role through school focus inspection, External School Review and similar work, the government should also respect schools’ professional autonomy. It should aim at strengthening collaboration and avoid being bureaucratic or arousing any antagonism between the ‘ruler’ and the ‘subject’. The cordial partnership is important to the building of a loving and harmonious social atmosphere which will promote the healthy growth of our younger generation.
- When there are malicious attacks or smearing, the government should responsibly and appropriately protect teachers from unnecessary and unreasonable disturbances.
- The non-statutory advisory body, Council on Professional Conduct in Education (CPC), was dissolved in the end of April 2022, after which there is not any teacher participation in the ruling of issues and cases related to the professional conduct of the teaching profession. With the complete absence of front-line education workers, how can the autonomy of the teaching profession be safe-guarded? In the research report on “How to Promote Hong Kong Secondary School Teachers’ Professional Status and Social Recognition” released in 2021 by the HKAHSS and the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute, it is revealed that principals and teachers interviewed opined that the setting up of a self-regulatory professional body would enhance the social recognition of teachers. Over 80% of parents shared similar views. To respect the views of the education profession and stakeholders, the government should seriously consider setting up a statutory professional body for the teaching profession.
- Even if the government does not have any plan to set up such a statutory professional body for the teaching profession, it should still set up a professional body similar to Teaching Staff Professional Committee in Macao SAR Government which includes principal and teacher representatives to handle complaints, reports, appeals or statements of objection filed by teachers, students or parents.
One of the key tasks listed in Mr. John Lee’s Election Manifesto is to enhance overall competitiveness, which can only be achieved through the nurture of talents. All development and progress in any society hinge on the power of education. The government’s budget for education in 2021/22 is HK$110.9 billion which constituted 15.2% of the total government expenditures. The budget for education in 2022/23 is HK$111.9 billion (13.8% of the total government expenditures), which is much lower than the past years and fails to meet the baseline as proposed in the Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action (Education 2030), which earmarks at least 4-6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and/or allocating at least 15-20% of public expenditures for education. We earnestly urge that the Chief Executive Policy Address 2022 will designate sufficient resources so that the education development of Hong Kong is on par with other advanced cities.
The success of education requires abundant resources. More importantly, up-to-date education policies and prudent strategic planning are crucial. We all know that policy making cannot solely depend on the government’s efforts, and therefore we sincerely hope that the government will aim at ample communication and collaboration with stakeholders. At the same time, it should actively embrace the suggestions from front-line education workers and unite different walks in society to work for the future development of our younger generations.
我們樂見 閣下競選政綱中的四大政策綱要，包括有「全面提升競爭實力」及「增加青年上流機會」，更承諾制訂整體的青年政策和青年發展藍圖，為青年健康成長和多元發展設定不同政策目標。近日 閣下2022施政報告諮詢會中，亦曾著緊地表達對香港人才流失的關注，提出香港需要「搶人才」。或許「搶人才」可暫解香港燃眉之急，但作為前線教育工作者，我們深信「搶人才」以外，更徹底、更長遠的是培育本地人才，以及尊重及保留已培育的人才。
- 非法定組織「教育人員專業操守議會」已於2022年4月底解散。解散以後，所有有關教育專業操守的裁決，均由教育局包辦，不會再有老師的參與。在前線參與全缺的情況下，如何能真正讓學界自主自律？本會與香港政策研究所於2021年發表「如何提升香港中學教師的專業地位及社會認同」研究報告，受訪的中學校長和教師表示，若設立一個自治的專業機構，能有效提升中學教師的社會認同。不約而同地，問卷調查中亦有超過 80%的家長認同此建議。政府應尊重學界及其他持分者的意見，積極考慮成立一個具備法定地位的教育人員專業組織。
閣下在競選時把「全面提升香港競爭力」作為一項重點，而提升競爭力的不二法門，是有系統的培育香港本地人才。任何社會的進步與發展，都需要借助教育的力量。特區政府2021-22 年度教育方面的開支預算為1,109 億港元，佔政府開支總額預算 15.2%，而2022-23年度教育開支預算總額為1,119億港元，只佔政府開支總額預算13.8%，較過往為低，未能符合聯合國多個組織提出之《2030年仁川宣言及行動框架》（Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action）的資源投放基準，即教育開支應佔國內生產總值的至少4%-6% 及/或 公共總支出的至少15%-20%。期望施政報告能投放足夠的資源，讓香港教育發展不遜於其他先進城市。