HONG Kong is planning to sweep away the colonial education system built under British rule.
The education commission has recommended the abolition of the equivalent of the 11-plus, the ending of streaming and the introduction of child-centred learning techniques in place of rote-learning.
Antony Leung, the commission's chairman, said: "The basic premise is to enable every individual to pursue holistic development through life-long learning."
The recommendations, now out for consultation, have the backing of the government, whose chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, initiated the overhaul. If they are accepted, external testing of children at age 11 will be abolished as soon as possible, while banding would go within five years.
Secondary schooling will be reduced from seven to six years, though all pupils will have to complete the sixth year. Instead of taking the equivalent of GCSEs and A-levels, pupils will sit one set of external exams.
Ko Wing-kow, convener of the Association of Government Secondary Schools and principal of Tsuen Wan secndary, said the reforms would be opposed by teachers who fear it will be difficult to teach mixed-ability classes and that standards will suffer.
He added that competition in class and for places in better schools was good preparation for adult life and should be retained.
The changes, to be introduced over 10 years, begin at kindergarten and primary levels. Child-centred learning in the pre-school years will be promoted by new teacher training. Eighty-five per cent of places will be centrally allocated according to residence, the remaining 15 per cent reserved mainly for siblings.
However, Hong Kong's elitist education system will not be dismantled. Secondaries will be allowed to select 20 or 30 per cent of their intake. "We need more elite schools, but they have to be elite in diverse ways since employers are looking for different talents," said Mr Leung.
At primary level, new curricula will focus on improving civic and moral education, the promotion of reading, developing more project-based study, and a greater use of information technology.