Motion on “Maintaining the Proportion of Education Expenditure in the Gross Domestic Product and Enhancing the Quality of Education” (2022.12.08)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Deputy President, there are a lot of problems with education in Hong Kong, and there are many controversies over, among other things, the quality, contents and administration of education, which have all along caused great concern among parents and students. Only with the emergence of “black-clad violence” has the community awakened to the fact that not only were there problems with teaching, but also that schools could allow people to deliberately exert a bad influence on students by instilling in them the idea of rioting for a long time and inciting them to commit illegal acts. Therefore, I agree that the quality of education must be enhanced and, more importantly, the deep-seated problems of education in Hong Kong must be thoroughly resolved.

The original motion states that with an ageing population and a decline in the number of school-aged students in Hong Kong, coupled with the emigration tide, some schools are facing the crisis of class reduction and school closure, so this Council urges the Government to undertake to maintain the education expenditure at a level not lower than the year 2020-2021 in the next five years. In fact, I agree with the proposal on seeking to enhance the quality of education, and also agree that the Government should provide comprehensive assistance to the affected teachers and students should class reduction and school closure actually happen. However, I have reservations about the request to keep the education expenditure unchanged for five years.

Hong Kong’s public coffers are already struggling to make ends meet in order to combat the epidemic. The Financial Secretary estimates that this year’s fiscal deficit will be as high as $100 billion. Since the economy has yet to fully recover, the Government should abide by the principle of fiscal prudence. In fact, the fiscal reserves have plummeted from $1.2 trillion a few years ago to $800 billion now, representing a one-third reduction. Thus, the Financial Secretary has to spend every dollar with meticulous calculation and planning, and the expenditure of various departments needs to be considered and planned in the long term. It is out of touch with reality to specify that a certain item of expenditure should remain unchanged for five years. Furthermore, when formulating the Budget, the Financial Secretary has the authority to decide how to deploy resources in order to support the Chief Executive’s administration. How can the Budget be formulated properly if the Financial Secretary has no flexibility and his hands are tied? Moreover, I believe that subject to the actual situation, the Government will definitely regard education as one of the most important funding items.

When it comes to the quality of education, Hong Kong students have not only lacked national education in the past, but also have little or no understanding of Chinese culture. As a Chinese, it is an obligation to learn Chinese culture, which, in addition to passing on Chinese culture from generation to generation, can also be an important means of fostering patriotism among students. Looking throughout the world, we can see that many places attach great importance to the education of their own culture. Japan and South Korea, for instance, have been doing very well in this regard. During festivals, many of their young people wear traditional costumes and engage in traditional activities, whereas Hong Kong students’ understanding of traditions is diminishing, even worse than that during the British Hong Kong era. I believe that the Government must formulate policies to enhance education in Chinese culture, history and language.

Besides, I am also very concerned about student stress. More than 10 years ago, Hong Kong adopted the slogan “learning is more than scoring” in an effort to alleviate the pressure on students, but the result is that score remains the most important thing, and we do not even bother to shout this slogan anymore. In fact, as I have repeatedly said, academic pursuits are not suitable for everyone and some people prefer to learn a skill. Even if people want to pursue academic education, not everyone can get good grades. Therefore, the education authorities should tailor education to the needs of students, including the promotion of vocational education, to provide diversified pathways for students who do not want to go to universities. When the community truly understands that “every trade produces its own master” and “skilled workers can also achieve prominence”, parents naturally will not force their children to go to university.

On the other hand, Hong Kong’s spoon-fed education has created a lot of homework pressure. Many parents have told me that their children have to attend school classes during the day and tutorial classes in the afternoon, and when they return home in the evening, they have to revise their lessons and do their homework, leaving students and even their parents fatigued and exhausted. I believe it is impossible to completely abandon this kind of education, but the Government should find ways to alleviate the unnecessary pressure. For example, the content of the curriculum should be overhauled by drawing reference from overseas practices, so as to reduce drills as much as feasible while enhancing inspirational and creative education. At the same time, training should also be provided to parents so that they can understand the correct way of learning.

Deputy President, I am the first Member to advocate “work-life balance” in the Legislative Council. Now I believe that students also need a “learning-life balance”. I hope that all sectors of the community can consider this issue seriously.

Thank you, Deputy President.

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