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Lessons to be learned from school with ‘shadow’ students

The principal of Hing Tak School in Tuen Mun has been accused of inflating
the number of registered pupils to support claims for government funding; it’s
time for the school’s management to be overhauled
A badly managed school is not usually a big news story. But the way Hing Tak
School, a primary school in Tuen Mun, has become so dysfunctional it would
have been almost comical but for the terrible effects it may have had on the
well-being of its young pupils.

What is worse is that for a government-subsidised school, the Education


Bureau has known about its problems for some time, yet little was done about
it other than sending a troubleshooter to smooth things over two months ago.

But clearly, the trouble goes much deeper, as police have been called in to
investigate. None of this might have come to light – or at least not so quickly –
had a few teachers not complained to the Professional Teachers’ Union,
which helped them take their case to the bureau.

The most serious matter is the allegation that school management inflated
student numbers to keep government funding and avoid being targeted for
closure. Twenty-one “shadow” students had allegedly been missing school for
up to two years.

Police are looking into the matter, though the school principal said some of
the missing students – most from the mainland – had been on extended sick
leave; others were kept on the school roster at the request of parents.

The school reportedly forced teachers to go to the mainland to recruit


students. Some disgruntled teachers stormed a meeting in February to protest.
Two were subsequently dismissed. A few others went on leave. School
teachers have been divided into rival groups, which also forced some parents
to take sides.

The new school year will start next month. All these issues need to be sorted
out before then. Under the Education Ordinance and as the primary funding
body, the bureau has the legal power to demand Hing Tak’s management
committee take over the running of the school as a short-term measure.
Bureau officials need to keep the committee on a tight leash until it can be
overhauled. The school’s sponsoring body is associated with three registered
villages under the Tuen Mun Rural Committee. Its controversial principal,
Chan Cheung-ping, still enjoys the support of rural members on the school’s
management committee despite the revelations.

As a longer-term solution, the bureau needs to examine whether the current


sponsoring body is up to the job. Otherwise, it must cut funding and insist
another sponsoring school body take over.
Don’t blame liberal studies curriculum for student activism
Surveys show that for most students it is just another subject that they try to
get high marks in, and that is not likely to turn them into subversives
Few people have anything nice to say about liberal studies in secondary
schools. Among the most vehement critics have been pro-establishment
politicians. Many seem to think the subject is turning schools into hotbeds of
anti-government student activism. The truth is probably the opposite.

The latest criticism is voiced by Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a former Legislative
Council president and the city’s only representative on the Standing
Committee of the National People’s Congress. In a television interview, she
said politically biased teachers were spreading anti-China views [2] and hate
against the communist state via liberal studies. “It is not related to the
Communist Party ... It is related to liberal studies,” Fan said.

It’s an old complaint. If she and other conservative critics had their way, there
would be an overhaul of the compulsory subject in the Diploma of Secondary
Education examination. One reason for their recurrent criticism is that topics
are often taken from news reports on controversial current issues around
politics and the government.

A recent exam question, which seemed to be critical of the city’s tolerance for
freedom of expression and protest culture, caused much controversy. In fact,
study topics and exam questions have been politicised by critics from both
sides who are driven by their own political interests and biases. Liberal
studies courses are doubtless not as well designed as they should be. But
judging from the responses of teachers and students and a recent study, they
keep students moderate rather than radicalise them.

A survey was conducted in 2015 by researchers at the Chinese University’s


Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies [3], and consisted of in-depth interviews with
36 students of liberal studies from 15 schools and 20 core members of the
now-defunct Scholarism – which spearheaded the opposition to national
education in 2012.

Liberal studies helps open minds, rather than creating radical students [3]

It found the subject had little impact on student activism. Most students said
their sole motivation was to achieve high scores. To this end, they drilled
through assignments and tests to master model answers, which usually
meant stating multiple points of view and presenting both positive and
negative aspects of an issue. The drive for exam-oriented results dampens,
rather than encourages, activism. Those who joined Scholarism said they did
so through communication with peers and information from news media, not
because of liberal studies.

Conservative politicians may want liberal studies to become a programme


for national education [4]. But that’s an entirely different issue. Liberal studies
have serious flaws, but radicalisation is not one of them.
overhauled 補貼

dysfunctional
解決
subsidised
明朗化
troubleshoot
指控
come to light
據稱
allegation

allegedly 不滿

disgruntled 衝進

stormed
後來
subsequently
爭議性
controversial

bureau

vehement 激越

hotbeds 溫床

activism 行動

doubtless
毫無疑問
spearheaded
帶領
radicalisation
激進化
大修

功能失調