HKAHSS’s Recommendations for the Chief Executive Policy Address 2023
The Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS)
20 September 2023
[Contents of this letter in Chinese was sent to the Chief Executive on 20 September 2023. 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 School (HKAHSS) has always upheld professionalism and been regularly contributing suggestions to the HKSAR Government on education policies and the nurture of youth. We welcome the idea of “Hong Kong will prosper only when its young people thrive” as outlined in the Policy Address 2022, under which the government has promised to create opportunities for children to grow and develop. It is hoped that our children will be nurtured to love the country and Hong Kong with a global vision, contributing to the development of our country and Hong Kong. To continue along that line and in response to the consultation exercise of the Policy Address 2023, the Executive Committee of the HKAHSS would like to raise the following:
1. Seeking Progress while Maintaining Stability, Creating Opportunities for Children to Grow
The Policy Address 2022 proposed that the government would continue to review the actual situation of primary and secondary school places with regard to the structural decline in student population. With students’ interests and education quality as the primary consideration, the government has claimed to aim for a “soft landing” which would pragmatically address the supply and demand of school places. In addition to halting new school projects and measures through school relocations and merging, we suggest the government to strengthen communication with front-line practitioners on how to ride on the opportunity of the declining student population to relieve the overcrowded learning environment and improve the quality of education together:
(a) The standard class size in a secondary school is 33-34 students, while the class size in primary schools operating small class teaching is 25. Policy Address 2022 has proposed to implement small-class teaching in over 90% of public primary schools within two academic years. Once the goal of small-class teaching in primary schools is achieved, the government should appropriately and progressively reduce the number of students per class in secondary schools, enhancing the bridging between primary education and secondary education so that Secondary 1 students can continue to enjoy the benefits of small class teaching. This can also enable secondary school teachers to design personalized learning for students and provide individual care to improve student learning outcomes. These measures will cater for individual differences and address the needs of students’ mental health, and thus helping them grow healthily.
(b) Set a time frame to maintain the number of classes in secondary schools across Hong Kong on basis of the class number in the 2023-24 school year. Thereafter, the number of students to each class can be adjusted flexibly in different districts according to the change in population. This will ensure a stable school environment for students’ growth and development.
(c) Allow schools with reduced classes to propose development plans and retain surplus teaching staff for a certain period so as to launch new education projects, such as innovative technology education and its applications, eLearning, national education, university and secondary school cooperation, promoting healthy campus projects and other educational endeavours. From the experience of primary and secondary schools in Mainland China, it is not difficult to find that many schools develop their own distinctive education projects according to their unique school situations.
(d) As the government has launched different projects such as “Top Talent Pass Scheme” to trawl the world for talents, it may consider allowing some secondary schools to provide boarding facilities so that the newly-arrived children can quickly adapt to the campus life.
2. Active Collaboration to Cultivate Local Innovative Technology Talents
“The Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development and Long-Range Objectives through the Year 2035 of the People’s Republic of China” was announced in March 2021, which has clearly indicated the goals for the development of an innovative country and a science and technology powerhouse. In the outline, it was proposed to develop the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area into an international center for science and technology innovation.
The HKSAR Government announced the “Hong Kong Innovation and Technology Development Blueprint” in December 2022, which laid out a clear path and planning for the development of innovation and technology in Hong Kong in the next five to ten years, enabling Hong Kong to realize the vision of an international innovation center. The first goal of Strategy (Five) in the Blueprint: “To enrich I&T talent resources and develop an international talent hub” is “to step up nurturing of local I&T talent at different learning stages”. The government also encourages universities to offer more courses related to innovation and technology, with the goal that within the next five years, 35% of the students funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) will study subjects related to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM).
The Hong Kong Academy of Sciences issued a warning of a talent gap in Hong Kong’s technological talents in its research report published in 2017 titled “Science, Technology and Mathematics Education in the development of the Innovation and Technology Ecosystem of Hong Kong”. The report pointed out “Despite the abolition of tracking and the transition into a broad-based education system, almost half of the new senior secondary students in Hong Kong do not take any Science or Technology subject, whereas in the US, Europe and many Asian countries, Science is compulsory and cross-Arts-Science study is part and parcel of many broad-based education systems.” Student enrolment in HKDSE advanced Mathematics dropped from 23% in 2012 to 14% in 2016. It is alarming that Hong Kong students’ participation rate in advanced Mathematics is much lower than that in Singapore (40%) and far behind those in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (57-80%)”.
Up till today, the situation has not significantly improved. According to the data of the 2023 HKDSE day school candidates, about 15% of candidates took extended units of Mathematics courses, about 12% of candidates took Information and Communication Technology; and half of the candidates have not selected any science or technology subjects. To realize Hong Kong’s vision of an international innovation center, the HKAHSS recommends the HKSAR Government to:
(a) entrust the Education Commission to fully review the document “Learning for life, learning through life: reform proposals for the education system in Hong Kong – Education blueprint for the 21st century” that was launched in 2000 according to social and technological changes along the years to ensure that the school system and curriculum can meet the development needs of students and society, benefiting every student and the entire society.
(b) update the “Technology Education Key Learning Area Curriculum Guide (Primary 1 – Secondary 6” released in 2017 as soon as possible to delineate measures to strengthen STEAM/AI curriculum at different learning stages to foster the cultivation of local innovative technology talents. At the same time, it should provide learning and teaching resources, arrange teacher training at Qualifications Framework Level 5 or above, and set up special posts in secondary and primary schools for teachers to take special care of the implementation of the relevant curricula.
(c) refine primary school mathematics and science curricula, such as exploring the possibility of setting up formal science and technology subjects in the upper primary level for a better interface with the secondary level. We also urge the government to explore the viability of replacing the current senior secondary Mathematics extended parts with “Advanced Mathematics” recommended by the Task Force on Review of School Curriculum.
(d) take reference of the experience in other regions which have set up high-level units to coordinate the promotion and implementation of innovation and technology education in schools, fostering teachers and students to acquire and apply innovation and technology in their daily lives, and establish a facilitative milieu on campus. For instance, the Education Bureau of Shenzhen Municipality has set up the Shenzhen Education Information Technology Center, the functions of which include the promotion of education technology applications, integrated innovation and digital teaching resource construction and management. Similarly, the Educational Technology Division under the Ministry of Education in Singapore takes the lead to help schools promote the application of innovative technology and provide support to enhance student learning.
(e) add dozens of additional places to the teacher scholarships (for master’s degree courses) under the current “T-Excel@hk” plan, allowing teachers to enroll in courses related to innovation and technology, and thus building up a core team of teachers for innovation and technology education.
3. Building up Good Connection to Enhance Education Leadership
Principals and teachers play a key role in education, shouldering the important responsibility of nurturing and caring for the younger generation. In recent years, schools have been facing a continuous loss of teaching talents, especially experienced the middle managers. We are much concerned about the leadership gap in schools, which will impact the quality of education. Under “One Country, Two Systems”, Hong Kong has the distinctive advantages of enjoying strong support of the Motherland and being closely connected to the world. The government should make good use of the professional development opportunities in Mainland China and the world to accelerate the cultivation of education leadership in the new era that is “based on the Motherland with an outlook of the world”. The HKAHSS recommends the HKSAR Government to:
(a) continue to provide funding to support the Committee on Professional Development of Principals and Teachers to implement suitable plans under the “T-Excel@HK” scheme to strengthen the professional development of teachers and principals.
(b) provide regular support to paid study plan for teachers and principals and the “i-Journey” paid overseas study programmes for serving teachers.
(c) increase the quota for serving principal/vice-principal leadership training courses, and expand it progressively to middle managers, allowing more current school leaders to groom global leadership and vision beyond the school environment. The first part of the course which is a 4-day attachment in business or non-governmental organizations can be expanded to cover major enterprises in the Mainland, especially flagship companies in the innovative technology industry.
(d) optimize the teacher scholarships (for master’s degree courses) under the “T-Excel@hk” plan to allow teachers to take accredited courses in the Mainland and overseas.
In recent years, some groups have advocated the initiative of “developing Hong Kong into an international education hub” to attract top talents from the Mainland, Belt and Road and ASEAN countries to study in universities in Hong Kong. Yet, it is unknown whether these talents can contribute to our city in the long run. We hope that the government can communicate more regularly and deeply with the education sector, actively consider their recommendations, and work together to focus more on nurturing local talents starting from primary and secondary school level, creating opportunities for Hong Kong children to grow and succeed, and realize the good wish as outlined in the Policy Address 2022 – “Hong Kong will prosper only when its young people thrive”.