Hong Kong's Education Commission has ignited an unprecedented public debate in response to the widely-held view that the existing system, from pre-school to university, is failing.
The commission has published a consultation paper, Education Blueprint for the 21st Century, suggesting a range of aims for education and calling for the community to express its views. Chief executive Tung Chee-hwa - opening the first of a series of public forums, attended by 800 educators, parents, students and community leaders - said: "We feel the pinch and sense of crisis. That is why we are thinking very hard on how to face the challenges of the future."
Television announcements are now urging people to express their "dreams" by using distributed leaflets, calling telephone hotlines or responding through the internet. Wish trees are also being put up on school noticeboards where students can express their views.
The government has also announced that more power will be devolved to schools and education departments will be streamlined. "The department should cease to be a 'controller' of schools. It should become their 'partner'," said Secretary for Education and Manpower, Joseph Wong.
The Education Commission says the system should be student-centred rather than exam- driven, and cater for the needs of individuals, provide equal opportunities, cultivate lifelong learning, and be outward-looking while rooted in Hong Kong.
Commission member Professor Cheng Kai-ming pointed to many failings: "We have allowed exams to take over educational aims," he said.
Commerce has called for a greater emphasis on educating elite students. James Tien, legislator and chairman of the General Chamber of Commerce, said: "We have not been satisfied with what the education system is producing. What we observe from interviewees is that they are barely able to write an interview letter in Chinese or English."
Before the commission report was published, legislators voted to suspend the Target Orientated Curriculum, introduced four years ago to enliven primary education, cater for students' individual needs and replace competitive exams with continuous assessment.
Yeung Yiu-chung, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong and a school principal, proposed the move on the grounds that TOC was not working and interfered with the "survival of the fittest" principle. "If there is no competition, what will our community become? Do we have to draw lots to get a job or promotion?" he said.