Replanting the Flower in Different Soil? A Critical Analysis of Education Borrowing in Hong Kong

By Chow, Anthony | International Journal of Education, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Replanting the Flower in Different Soil? A Critical Analysis of Education Borrowing in Hong Kong


Chow, Anthony, International Journal of Education


Abstract

This paper critically analyses the impact the New Senior Secondary (NSS) has had on Hong Kong through Phillips and Ochs' four-stage model of policy borrowing in education. It argues that the Hong Kong government overlooked the fundamental contextual differences between the two curricula, and that this incompatibility has led to various challenges in integrating the NSS into the existing education system. This paper also contributes to the methodological literature on comparative education and theorisation of education borrowing by illustrating the importance of context. The monopolistic and generalisation assumptions in the positivist paradigm have misled many governments to reify statistics and uncritically transfer incompatible policies to their home countries; the case of the NSS in Hong Kong is an example of this. Although the interpretivist paradigm helps comparativists better understand local context, it is also important to be aware of the limitations of the analytical model used here. Phillips and Ochs' model was developed based on observations of education borrowing between England and Germany, and it might not truly represent the situation in non-English speaking Asian countries. Also, the model was not specifically built for a capitalist economy, and, therefore, comparativists also need to be aware of the economic structure of the country they are studying, as this can greatly affect the aim of public education. Further study should incorporate literatures and models from Asian countries in order to make the analysis more relevant.

Keywords: education borrowing, comparative education, comparative research, school curriculum, policy transfer

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1. Introduction

Many schools in Hong Kong criticise the New Senior Secondary (NSS) school curriculum for borrowing the form of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme curriculum (IBDP) without retaining its substance. According to a local survey, over 90 percent of students and 63 percent of school principals said that the NSS was even more stressful for them than the former curriculum (..., 2013). At the same time, schools also reported that the government underestimates the standard number of teaching hours by 37 percent, and that in reality students need to spend an average of 10 hours in school every day to complete the curriculum (Yeung, 2013; ..., 2012). The new curriculum was supposedly meant to reduce stress and make teaching more effective, but the NSS does not seem to be achieving its goals. What went wrong with this education borrowing?

The fundamental concept of the NSS was borrowed from the popular IBDP, but these two curricula were developed according to different contextual requirements and have different goals. This paper critically analyses the impact the NSS has had on Hong Kong through Phillips and Ochs' four-stage model of policy borrowing in education. It argues that the Hong Kong government overlooked the fundamental contextual differences between the two curricula, and that this incompatibility has led to various challenges in integrating the NSS into the existing education system.

2. The New Senior Secondary School Curriculum in Hong Kong

Many local educationalists believe that the NSS concept originated from the internationally recognised IBDP, which is offered by the International Baccalaureate Organization (..., 2009; ..., 2006). Similarities between NSS and IBDP have been found in at least five areas, including overall aim, teaching style, curriculum structure, assessment methods, and subject requirements (Cheung, 2010; EMB, 2004). This section provides a concise introduction to this curriculum and discusses contextual factors which relate to the policy borrowing decision.

The NSS curriculum was launched in 2009 to replace the secondary school system that had been used since 1974 in British colonial Hong Kong. The former system was an elitist educational system in which only the top 30 percent of students were promoted to the matriculation years and the remaining 70 percent were diverted to a vocational training path or left school to join the workforce (Choi, 1999). …

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