Pierce Lam vs. ESF (one more time)

Pierce Lam is an idiot

As pslhk might say, I am too busy to read the SCMP myself, so thanks to Bruce for pointing out that Pierce Lam has hit back:

Make better use of subsidy given to ESF

Andrew Nunn's reply ("'Educational apartheid' hitting expats", March 1) to my letter ("ESF admission policy smacks of segregation", February 19) is premised on the allegation about local schools' reluctance to admit non-Cantonese-speaking children.

He claims that English Schools Foundation schools' preferential admission of non-Cantonese-speaking children is a remedy for native-English-speaking children sandwiched between extortionate international schools and unreceptive local schools.

However, according to the Education Bureau, it is "committed to assisting all non-Chinese-speaking students in adapting to the local education system and integrating into the community as early as possible".

In 2011/12, there were 30 "designated schools" each receiving a recurrent annual grant of HK$600,000 for the implementation of school-based measures for non-Chinese-speaking students.

If ESF schools' annual subsidy of HK$283 million is applied for this purpose, half of our local schools can be converted into "designated schools". This will be an equitable solution if the only alternative is to perpetuate Hong Kong's perverse tradition of educational apartheid.

In A Theory of Justice, the seminal work on fairness, the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls proposed that we should determine what is fair from the "original position". It's like a blindfold test where people who do not know their own ethnicities have to choose what is a fair social arrangement.

Given Hong Kong's demographic reality where there is a 98 per cent chance that one belongs to either the non-English-speaking minorities or local Cantonese-speaking populace, it will be a logical impossibility for anyone to consider preferential education for native English speakers as a fair arrangement.

Pierce Lam, Central

Is that what Andrew Nunn was advocating?  He actually said that “we should have a "one size fits all" subsidised education system - one that accommodates everyone, whether it be local Chinese, mainland Chinese, Westerners, ethnic minorities or other foreign expatriates.” 

Interestingly, there was an article about "designated schools" in the New York Times this week (I read it in the International Herald Tribune), so we have a chance to consider Pierce’s cunning plan:

Caught Between Hong Kong’s Two Systems 

HONG KONG — Talwinder Singh considers himself a “Hong Kong citizen” and a native son of the city where he was born. Though he is an Indian passport holder, he has been to India only once.  But, unlike most Hong Kongers, he goes to what is called a “designated school,” in which 95 percent of students are, like himself, from ethnic minorities, mostly with South Asian or Southeast Asian backgrounds. 

[..] The designated schools were meant to help those who fell into the gap between ethnic Chinese — who make up 94 percent of the population — and the mostly Western expatriates who can afford English-language internationals schools.

It was also after the handover that Hong Kong implemented its “mother-tongue teaching policy,” in which more than 300 secondary schools switched from English to Chinese.  Of the remaining 114 secondary schools allowed to continue teaching in English, most were expensive private schools, or elite public schools that are extremely difficult to enter. The spots for minority children were drastically reduced.

“The move was too sudden. The teachers were not well-equipped to teach these minority children,” said Tahir Nadeem Khan, an English teacher and head of community relations at the Islamic Kasim Tuet Memorial College, a designated school. “Many minority students suffered from the policy change.”

“It is racial segregation,” said Fermi Wong, executive director of Hong Kong Unison, a nongovernmental organization that helps minority groups. “Students study in narrow social circles, and they are largely disconnected from the society. Because of the poor quality of education in these schools, they end up not being able to read and write Chinese,” she said. “Their inability to learn the language affects their education opportunities and, subsequently, their employment.”

Well, I am starting to wonder if Pierce Lam knows anything about these "designated schools".  

“The reality for many of these ethnic minority children is that they come from low-income families, and they cannot afford to go to the international schools,” said Lam Woon-kwong, chairman of the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission and a former head of the Education Bureau.  Hong Kong students leaving the sixth grade have to apply to get into secondary school the next year. The system is based on exam scores, including one on Chinese language ability.

“The competition is keen because local Chinese parents desperately want their kids to get into elite schools to study English, too,” said Mr. Lam, who added that very few minority students made the cut. “It is easy to say minority students are lazy. But they are not slow learners. Many of these students are very talented. Yet no matter how good they are at English and mathematics, they often perform poorly at the primary level due to the Chinese requirement.”

In an ironic twist, ethnic minority students with poor Chinese test scores would not get into the elite schools that teach in their native English, meaning that they ended up back at the Chinese-language schools that failed them in the first place.

It was because of that problem that the designated schools were created [..] but lobbying groups, like Hong Kong Unison, have long argued that a better solution would be to allow more schools to use an alternative curriculum — with English as the first language, and Chinese as the second — and reduce the number of schools in which minority children are separated out.

“The government needs to stop the expansion of designated schools and get these students back into mainstream schools, with the condition that these schools receive effective support,” Ms. Wong said.

So, Pierce Lam’s solution is to take money away from the ESF and use it to establish more schools that provide poor quality education.  He’s an idiot.

I can scarcely be bothered to deal with his other point that “it will be a logical impossibility for anyone to consider preferential education for native English speakers“.  He’s just not listening, is he?


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