HONG KONG. Teacher education is in the throes of a revolution to upgrade the quality of the staff.
Four-year BEd and postgraduate courses are to replace two and three-year Certificate of Education courses. The new government has brought forward the plans for an all-graduate teaching profession - in 2003 all new teachers will have to have a degree. By 2007 all must be professionally trained.
Tung Chee-hwa, chief executive of the Special Administrative Region - as Hong Kong is now known - has officially opened the new Institute of Education campus, which caters for 3,500 full-time students and 5,000 part-time.
Its modern facilities replace four colleges where students prepared for low-status jobs of drilling primary and kindergarten children in the 3Rs. The institute trains all teachers for these levels, and about one third of secondary teachers.
Professor Ruth Hayhoe, the institute's new director, blamed the old British government for not having the vision to upgrade teacher training in line with other tertiary institutions in Hong Kong and teacher training in Britain. The failure meant the former colleges could only attract students with poor English who had been rejected by the new universities.
The move to an all-graduate profession has been welcomed by Professor Hayhoe, a Canadian specialist in comparative education. "That has tremendous implications for upgrading our staff and our whole culture.
"We really want to change the whole image of education," she said. There will be a new emphasis on child psychology, how children learn and their learning environment. Research has a new importance. Within five years about half its 400 lecturers will have doctorates, compared with around 70 now. Model schools, from kindergarten to secondary level, are to be opened on the campus, for research and an example of good teaching practice.
For the secondary level she plans to build up a niche in less academic subjects, including visual arts, music and physical education. In Hong Kong's exam-orientated school system these had been neglected. The status of kindergarten teaching would be raised through a new BEd course in early childhood studies, for those who will be leaders in this sector.
But Professor Hayhoe does not intend to impose western education values. "I feel discipline and memorisation have roles to play. It can be enriching if you memorise the right things," she said.
"I'm very used to Asian education culture. I see both its strengths and weaknesses. I sometimes think in the West we have gone too much the other way. Don't let them have any pressures, don't make any high demands on them, schools should be all fun and no stress. I think we need a balance between the two."
It is surprising that a non-Chinese was selected for this sensitive position. Professor Hayhoe, a fluent Cantonese and Mandarin speaker, trained as a teacher in Hong Kong and has spent much of the past 20 years working with mainland Chinese universities as they try to modernise. She is an honorary professor in seven of them.