Hong Kong’s Education System: Caught Between ‘One Country’ and ‘Two Systems’

Hong Kong’s Education System: Caught Between ‘One Country’ and ‘Two Systems’
Students laugh during an English grammar lesson taught by a "celebrity tutor" in Hong Kong, Dec. 9, 2013 (AP photo by Kin Cheung).

For years, Hong Kong’s education system has been a paragon of academic achievement, consistently ranked among the leading systems in the world. Yet Hong Kong’s education policy is far from perfect, and its highly competitive environment has produced problems of its own. Moreover, Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China has created an identity dilemma and limited its potential as an education hub. In an email interview, Bob Adamson, chair professor of Curriculum Reform at the Education University of Hong Kong and UNESCO chairholder in TVET and Lifelong Learning, explains the development of Hong Kong’s education system, what the choice of language of instruction says about Hong Kong’s sense of identity, and how Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China informs its educational policies.

WPR: What is the general state of Hong Kong’s education system, and how has it evolved in recent years?

Bob Adamson: Hong Kong’s education system has received international recognition for excellence. It has been consistently ranked near the top of the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) for 15-year-olds, and several universities are prominent in various world rankings. Reforms to the school curriculum have reflected a balance between education for personal fulfillment and preparation for the workforce and citizenship, while efforts have been made to increase school autonomy, teacher quality and extracurricular activities. The provision of higher education and vocational education has expanded and is well-funded compared to many other places. However, the business community expresses concern about the communication and problem-solving skills of those leaving secondary school and university graduates; parents complain about over-assessment, reams of pointless homework and lack of intellectual stimulation in schools; schoolchildren are unhappy about the stress and long hours they endure—examination-oriented private tutoring flourishes in an environment that continues to emphasize competition; staff in tertiary education grumble about the constraints of one-size-fits-all managerialism and box-ticking assessment of performance.

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