Perception of Classroom Environment in Hong Kong: Differences between Students in Junior and Senior Forms

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ABSTRACT

In Hong Kong secondary schools, students in the senior forms take competitive examinations to proceed to the next level, whereas those in the junior forms have to attend school regardless of their ability and motivation. It was hypothesized that this produces different classroom climates. To test this hypothesis, 602 Chinese secondary school students were administered the short version of the Classroom Environment Scale. Significant differences were found, varying by type of school, on the dimensions of Involvement, Task Orientation, Teacher Support, Competition, Order and Organization, Affiliation, Innovation, Rule Clarity, and Teacher Control. These findings are discussed.

School environment has been recognized as an important factor in academic performance, personal development, relationships among students and teachers, and students' mood, attitudes, and behaviors (e.g., Fraser, 1987; Fraser & Fisher, 1983; Moos, 1987; Waxman, 1991; Wright, Gallagher, & Lombardi, 1991). Due to differences in culture and educational systems, studies conducted in the West have little relevance for understanding the situation in Hong Kong (cf. Cheng, 1994; Li, 1995; Wong, 1993, 1995). Thus, the goal of the present study was to examine differences in perceived classroom climate between junior and senior form secondary school students in Hong Kong, using the short version (in Chinese) of the Classroom Environment Scale (CES; Moos & Trickett, 1974).

The assumption of the social climate approach, pioneered by Rudolph Moos, is that environments, like human beings, have features that can be assessed. The 90-item CES, for example, looks at classroom environment in terms of three broad domains comprising nine dimensions. The Relationship domain encompasses three dimensions: Involvement (student attentiveness and participation), Affiliation (student friendship and mutuality), and Teacher Support (teacher assistance and concern).

The Personal Growth domain contains two dimensions: Task Orientation (emphasis on completing planned activities) and Competition (for grades and recognition). The System Maintenance and Change domain includes four dimensions: Order and Organization (orderliness of student behaviors and class activities), Rule Clarity (the extent to which clear rules are established), Teacher Control (rule enforcement), and Innovation (the amount of unusual and varied learning activities).

To understand the rationale for comparing the environments of junior (Forms 1-3) and senior (Forms 4-7) classrooms, knowledge of some of the characteristics of Hong Kong's educational system is necessary. In Hong Kong, there are seven years of secondary school education and three years of university education. In chronological terms, Form i is equivalent to Grade 7 in the U.S. system, and Form 7 is equivalent to the college freshman year. All students are required to complete Form 3 regardless of academic ability or motivation. Forced to stay in school, some exhibit academic, emotional, and behavioral problems (Coalition for the Evaluation of Compulsory Education, 1991).

Students are channeled into different secondary schools on the basis of ability (measured by public examinations). Approximately 70% of Form 3 students progress to Form 4 on the basis of their school performance. An examination is held at the end of Form 5, and approximately 30% are selected for Form 6. There is another examination at the end of Form 7 for the purpose of determining eligibility for college. A substantial proportion of students have to change schools for Form 4 and an even larger proportion for Form 6, separating many from their friends. Thus, attempts to establish new friendships-in a competitive learning environment-might have to be repeated.

Based on these conditions, three hypotheses were postulated (derived with T. W. H. Li, to whom the author expresses gratitude). First, due to the competitive and syllabus-driven nature of the senior forms (with movement between schools common), students in these forms were expected to score higher on Competition, Involvement, and Task Orientation, but lower on Affiliation and Innovation, than were junior form students. …