Category Archives: Education

Zones of Improbable Progress

From Keith Lewin’s Taking Targets to Task Revisited: How Indicators of Progress on Access to Education can Mislead

In reality financial and non financial bottlenecks often result in progress falling behind an on-track pathway of dates and milestones. Year on year the gradient of what needs to be achieved steepens. The planning and implementation system can then enter a “Zone of Improbable Progress” (ZIP). Either the goals fall into disrepute because they are unachievable and there is no confidence in making more and more rapid progress, or the goals are redefined and shifted forward in time (Lewin, 2007a:30)


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Filed under Capacity, Economics, Education

Higher Education: The Dropout Dilemma, Part I

I’ve started a career out of comparing and contrasting all the educational similarities and differences I’ve seen as an American transplanted to Asia. One of my favorite similarities was how Chinese teachers I worked with projected corrections for all the perceived failings of their schools on to American education and vice versa. American teachers, for the most part, imagined Chinese students as highly attentive, studious, disciplined, respectful students – packed 100 to a class but still dutifully listening to Teacher, completing all their homework, and studying for all their exams. My Chinese coworkers imagined American high school classrooms as approximating The Dead Poet’s Society for every class, every day of the week.

One of my favorite contrasts is higher education enrollment. Let me start with what I dislike most about the Asian higher education system I’ve encountered: I taught at a Chinese “polytechnic” and worked with some brilliant students there. The students took a single test, the gaokao, which determined their entire educational future in one go. Couldn’t sleep well the night before? Welcome to ______ Polytechnic. Or nowhere. Once graduated from the polytechnic, there was (functionally) almost no chance of getting into a four-year university. On the university side of thing, (functionally) no one fails. Once you’re in, you’re in. The dies were set and cast the moment the gaokao tests were scored.

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Filed under Education

National Education in Hong Kong Delayed

The South China Morning Post reported today that plans for a “national education” have been shelved for a few more years,  until 2015. Without too much exaggeration, the purpose of the curriculum was to make Hong Kong students feel more Chinese. Specifically, a version of Chinese-ness inspired by the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. The idea was proposed by Mr Bowtie after Hu Jintao remarked “on the importance of giving Hong Kong children a better understanding of China’s development and identity.” A puppet knows where his strings lead.

Harry Harrison's cartoon of the topic

This would be done primarily with learning to “sing the National Anthem, understand the Basic Law, attending national flag raising ceremonies, supporting national sports teams, and appreciate and understand Chinese culture.” Unsurprisingly, many have called this brainwashing. At issue is that Hong Kong Chinese are a very different type of Chinese than Mainland Chinese, as Cam McMurchy recently wrote at depth on. The most clear measurement of this has been the increasing number of Hong Kongers who identify themselves first as Hong Kongers and second as Chinese. Which, of course, the Standing Committee in Beijing ridicules as “unscientific.”

As a relatively recent guest in Hong Kong and a former long-term guest of the People’s Republic (but I repeat myself?), I have mixed feelings. I instinctively react negatively to Beijing dictating anything to Hong Kong. But I don’t automatically sympathize with the locals because I don’t think they’ve got a much better idea. A post-colonial identity needs to be constructed, but it needs to be the product of a territory-wide discussion about what our current and historical experience has been.

I think, in many ways, Hong Kong is too localist. I’ve written before that I have strong feelings against the rise of Cantonese as a Medium of Instruction in Hong Kong. I think Hong Kongers don’t really know what it means to be a citizen of Hong Kong. They forget that they are mostly the progeny of relatively recent migrants, mostly because of how quickly they dropped other regional dialects for Cantonese. Hong Kong, as far back as paleolithic times, was a rocky outpost with people from around the region coming in and out. The arrival of the British and the increase in trade brought in migrants from around China and the world. I have a Portoguese/English friend on my island whose family been in the region for six generations. That’s longer than many of my “local” friends. I don’t think there’s an intertwining unique history of a unique people, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

Gordon Mathews, a scholar on Hong Kong identity at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says that “the greatest fear Hong Kong people have is Hong Kong becoming just one more city in China.” I fear that for most of Hong Kong sees their city as a cleaner Guangzhou – cleaner government, cleaner streets, cleaner subways – with a colonial legacy. Most of us attracted to Hong Kong see something altogether different: arguably Asia’s only truly global city. Hong Kong needs to forge a common post-ethnic identity that comes to terms with 2047, when handover to the PRC is complete. An identity that doesn’t cringe at the thought of Filipino domestic helpers being one of “us.”  With an identity like that, Hong Kong can move forward on a lot of other educational problems – like where to place non-Chinese students in Hong Kong. Until then, the “us vs them” will remain Mainland vs Cantonese-speaking Chinese. I don’t know exactly what it would look like, I only hope that it begins and that it eventually includes ethnic minorities, permanent/long-term expats, and even the arrivals from the Mainland as well as the other 90% of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong. Together, we’re constructing a unique identity that we need to put to words and ideals.


Filed under Culture, Education

Reflections on Satish Kumar’s “Holistic Education”

I watched a Satish Kumar lecture yesterday and walked away distinctly unimpressed. I’ll start with where we agree, move on to where I was repulsed, and then conclude with some lighter territory of where I just disagree.

The Convention on Modern Liberty: Satish Kumar

Satish Kumar

Where we would agree – and by we, I mean most education researchers and educationists – is that “education” is a bigger concept than just teaching, though it is often stripped to that essential characteristic. He discusses how the latin root of education is educare, which means to bring out. He then takes an (unacknowledged) page from Freire and slams the “banking” view of learning. OK, fair points so far.

People and institutions often lose sight of the bigger picture, sometimes even teaching gets reduced to schooling and focuses on all the institutional roles schools and universities play.  I was in a Philip Altbach seminar a few weeks ago and a faculty member noted that his entire analysis of the role of world-class “center” universities focused on their role as research producers – where did he think the role of teaching and learning fit in? Altbach replied that teaching was difficult to measure but that they were trying new metrics but was interrupted, with a bout of collective laughter, when the questioner repeated “teaching and learning.”

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Filed under Education, philosophy