Teacher preachers put faith in holism

10th April 1998 at 01:00
HONG KONG

The Queen Elizabeth secondary is being watched closely. Built to a standard design, it seems like any other modern school in Hong Kong's New Towns, though its pupils have been rejected by other secondaries.

What really sets the school apart is that it has been founded by pioneers in teacher education, who have given up senior careers in teacher training to practise what they have preached.

The school's principal is Ms Mak Chen Wen-ning, who was vice-principal of a teacher-training college. Mr Tsoi Heung-sang, a senior manager from the Hong Kong Institute of Education, is deputy principal. More teacher educators hold other senior posts.

But reform does not mean the team is importing Western liberal education, which Ms Mak believes has resulted in many British schools becoming out of control.

"One thing I know that would not be right would be entirely adopting what is right in the Western world. We have to recognise the contextual difference," she said. "There is a role for rote learning at an early stage. There is a role for habit training. But there should also be a role for cultivating a student's thinking and expression."

Ms Mak and Mr Tsoi do not expect to see their ideals realised for two to three years. But the school's first intake, all children rejected by an education system that measures itself by early academic achievement, are already benefiting from its more holistic approach.

Mr Tsoi said: "When they reported to school they had blank faces. They were very negative about school. Now if you see a student they will greet you and try to chat to teachers. They look happy and have a sense of belonging. They have started to believe they will have a chance in exams."

The school is leading the way in curriculum development, to make learning more relevant. Pupils are not expected merely to regurgitate information from textbooks. Instead, they prepare projects, reports and presentations. Nor are there rigid barriers between subjects. Humanities such as history, economics and public affairs are taught as integrated basic studies.

Non-academic subjects receive greater attention, as does the use of information technology. Every classroom can access the Internet.

The school also accepts the theory of multiple intelligence - that there are several types of intelligence rather than one monolithic IQ - and that pupils' learning styles vary. Such theories are barely acknowledged in most Hong Kong schools.

The school, now in its second year, conducts its own in-house training and research. Most graduates needed huge doses of in-house training, Ms Mak said.

"We are still teacher educators, but unlike in our past jobs, we can do teacher education on the spot. "

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