No-no, I didn’t stop writing. I have been waiting for that perfect moment when I am finally done with university assignments. And you know, it never comes. After some time you realise that this perfect moment to start something is now. So I start right now in the middle of the chaos happening around.
Here in Hong Kong I have been thinking and talking to locals a lot about their education system. And the more I wondered about it the more it surprised me.
First, how it all started…
At CityU we have one lecture per week of each subject, which is 2 h 50 min and a 10-minutes break somewhere in between. More technical subjects have also some tutorials. In general, students have 4-5 subjects per semester with 1 lecture per day. Or if you manage to enrol into the subjects early enough, you can arrange your timetable more compactly, having few days off during the week. For each subject you have lectures with 70% mandatory attendance for pass, 1 individual assignment, 1-2 group presentations with a report and a written exam for some at the end of the semester.
After studying in SSE Riga, I was rather surprised that during the lectures very few local students actually follow the professor. The majority are in their phones/laptops/eating lunch. However, after the class they will all print out the notes and go through them all over again. I wondered why would you do that? Because it’s rather hard to memorize stuff when professor is explaining it, right? It is much easier to go home and just learn the slides. Because “you need to know all the slides to pass the exam”. According to some local students, the top-performers are those who are not paying attention to professor in class or even seldom come.
In most of the classes, professors try to encourage students to participate in the discussion by giving them points for asking questions or sharing their opinion. In 90% of my class discussions, exchange students are taking the floor most of the time. With regard to local students, in most of the cases they will write down the question on the card and read it out when asking. If a professor does not understand the essence of the question, they will repeat the same once again. Sometimes the discussion moves into completely different angle while they are writing. However, they will still raise their hand and ask a question that they wrote. In the end, it’s points that matters that you need to get.
And yes, my favourite part is team-work. Students generally expect very precise guidelines from a professor, who would tell them exactly what they should do. It is typical that they will wait for the whole semester just before the deadline to start working. When you discuss the strategy of the presentation/case study, in response to your opinion, you would most probably hear: “okay, so what should I do?”. In the group report, the university requires each student to mark the text that they wrote, making it rather a collection of individual reports, than a product of team collaboration.
So I started wondering why it is as is it?
Firstly, Hong Kong population is rather dense for the territory is occupies – 7 million people on the island and continent part. Not surprisingly, education and real estate are the most expensive worldwide.
It all starts from primary schools, or even before, when parents would overload their 3-year-old kid with language classes, music or something more. As schools in Hong Kong are divided into top-schools for the smartest kids, middle and lower range, up until the age for primary school the kid would have a tight schedule of classes, preparing for the admissions. And admission process is very competitive. Imagine, they would interview a kid and both parents! It is very crucial to get to the top primary school, which would make it easier then to get to a high-level secondary school and so on. Therefore, families focus a lot on the education of their children, so that they build their resume for the next level of admissions.
Throughout the whole study process children mostly study to memorize material from the text books. And then children are tested for the knowledge of the studied material by marking the correct answer. And this gets to a very absurd extent. From one of the stories I heard, the teacher would insist that ducks cannot fly, citing the course book, even though there are ducks in Hong Kong and they actually can fly.
In the attempt to reform the road-map learning process, Liberal Arts class was introduced, which did not have any text book and would encourage students to find information for a discussion of particular topics by themselves. And you know what, the teachers’ phones were ringing non-stop, as parents were confused that there was no book, which their child should memorize, and that there was not only one correct answer to an essay question.
When I ask local students what they did in the childhood, “I remember only sitting and studying all the time in my room” – is the most popular answer I have heard so far. I can understand this, when the system is so competitive, the only way to test students and divide in groups is testing their knowledge of a very straight-forward material.
So, it goes like that for 12 years, until the university admissions. That’s the make or break point. Only around 20-25% of all the students actually get a place. Those who don’t, would look for a job or go for vocational school and try to enter the university the next year. Those students, who can afford would go to study abroad. Local students say that once you are not in the university, your future career perspectives do not look so bright any more.
Upon graduation, university students have brilliant resumes. Well, they should, when they start building it when they are so small. Yet, one thing is missing. Many employers find that once you meet a person during the interview that is a completely different story. Being learnt in a manner of memorizing, it is quite hard to improvise and answer situational questions.
With regard to the working culture, staying overtime at work is almost a norm. People work a lot and have only 1 week of vacation per year, which partially is responsible for high economic activity in Hong Kong. The salaries are rather high, however the spending on real estate and education are exorbitant. So, here the vicious circle starts again.
High competition is one of the factors leading to such outcomes, anything else?
It was interesting to find out that there is no pension system in Hong Kong, contrary to Europe. So, children are the only source of income for elderly. It goes without saying that they would transfer some part of their salary into the family fund as soon as they start working. Those, who do not have kids or do not have any safety income, can apply for the government help, which is extremely small however to survive in Hong Kong.
So it happens that parents would invests millions in the education of their kids, push them to study hard, so that later they would work hard to maintain the living of the whole famility and so on and so on…
Even though Hong Kong seemed such an amazing place for young professionals in terms of career opportunities, there are still many things to consifer before you decide to move here for a long-term period.
P.S. I just find the education system and the structure of the society to be different from the community I come from, so I felt like I want to share my thoughts. Like all the other posts, I get all the information and food for thoughts from conversations from people around.