In the market for lifelong reform
A SECONDARY teacher in China recently tried to punish a child he accused of stealing sugar cane by beating him and forcing him to wear a placard round his neck admitting his guilt.
In today's China, teachers are no longer allowed to use such techniques - common in the Cultural Revolution. The Guangdong teacher was sacked and made to apologise to the boy.
As China leaves the excesses of 20th-century revolution behind, its education system enters the millennium amid ambitious plans for expansion and reform.
In Hong Kong, many would-be education reformers admire the sweeping changes under way on the mainland, most notably the moves in many cities to use residence rather than competition to determine secondary admissions.
In the coming year, Hong Kong's eduation commission is expected to recommend ending the centralised testing of 11-year-olds, part of reforms to create a new infrastructure for lifelong learning.
Hong Kong's reforms are expected to take a decade to bring in - not soon enough for Professor Cheng Kai-ming, pro-vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong and a member of the commission.
"I'm able to visit many school systems in the world. There is not a single system which is as depressing as the Hong Kong one," he said. "Teachers are very depressed. Students are very depressed. They are working very hard but not getting anywhere."
Dr Bob Adamson, associate professor of curriculum studies at the University of Hong Kong, welcomed the changes for secondary admission but said: "I can still see a high degree of competitiveness, with parents and children queuing for places in kindergartens linked to the best schools."