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IAIN LAFFERTY: No thanks Mr Chips

The process of education is largely successful in Hong Kong because of a circle of trust that exists between parents, teachers and students. This is not always the case in other countries, where more critical societies often measure teachers not by the laudable merits of their profession, but by the length of their holidays. Recently, however, English language medium schools in Hong Kong are increasingly having to face, not so much an elephant, but an educationalist in the room.   

These “gurus” are the bored housewives of the teaching establishment and are found in ivory towers inventing whacky educational doctrine that they hope will carry their name into the promised land of full-time consultancy. Competing against each other in ever more ridiculous conjecture, they are as easily identifiable as a scrum of bankers at a Wan Chai happy hour and are characterized by their ideological opposition to textbooks and meaningful assessment. For example, if their ideas were applied to the Department of Transport, the concise Highway Code Handbook would be replaced with a ream of non-sequential incoherent worksheets and random web links, while the practical driving test would consist of a 15-minute presentation, to be given to a facilitator on the “History of Roundabouts.”

“Frameworks,” “skills” and “learning outcomes” are the buzzwords deployed by these curriculum anarchists, as they promise to liberate teachers from the tyranny of outdated examinations and make way for a New Educational Order deemed to be relevant in the 21st century. Yet this is far from a new idea and was the fashionable approach pursued in the nineteen seventies, when combat jacketed hippy teacher trainers were heard discussing “Integrated Humanities” and other flawed educational thinking in the gaps between twenty minute Prog Rock songs.

The idea that internationally recognized curricula suffocate teaching is as misguided as that equally contrived nineteen seventies corporate mantra, “Home taping is killing music.” In reality most teaching frameworks are so cumbersome and dictatorial that they inhibit good teaching and prevent teachers putting any meat on the brittle factory farmed chicken bones of skills upon which they hang. Frameworks in fact garrote conceptual knowledge in favour of soft skills, which have always been successfully taught through the prism of a wide variety of rigorous academic subjects.

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The impact of this cycle of educational spin is evident in the menagerie of esoteric programs currently being championed by the various International Schools in Hong Kong. So what can we do to limit the damage of this latest attack on education? As a parent, you can insist on an assessment and reporting system that you can actually understand. Don’t be fobbed off with a “live” online summary featuring a multicolored spinning vortex that tosses out random levels of attainment pertaining to bland strands of descriptive edu-prose about vague achievement. If you don’t understand the reporting system it’s not because you’ve failed at the job of parenting, it’s because someone whose job it is to communicate ideas and information is not very good at theirs. As a teacher, always be guided by your own professional instincts and refuse to indulge the dumbing down propagated by the snake oil peddlers. And if you’re a student, well you might try asking why your Geography teacher has a degree in History? 

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