Can we still run schools according to the vision and mission of Catholic education?

Devolution of Power?

I anticipate that some people may say: What has been said so far sounds good in theory but in reality it is a struggle for power! The Government wants to empower the schools but the Schools Sponsoring Bodies (SSBs) do not want to let go!

We have no need to cover up facts with beautiful words. There is indeed a question of power involved here. Let us ask: Who is to devolve power? Does the Government want to devolve its power? In the past the Government was not willing to devolve more power to the SSB. With the new system in the future it will not devolve more power to the School Management Committee (SMC). What the Government wants is to devolve the power of the SSB to the SMC registered directly with the Government.

The Education Commission Report No. 7 suggested: To empower the School Executive Committee (SEC) without abrogating the role of the SSB. In fact, aside from making decision regarding the personnel, what other important issues can the SEC not deliberate on? It is true that in the two-tier structure more important issues have to be endorsed by the SSB but the interaction between the two is a guarantee for more comprehensive discussions and arriving at more substantial conclusions.

It is easier to arrive at a consensus in the SMC appointed by the SSB. In the new system the SMC is politicized and easily becomes divisive. It will be an occasion for Government intervention. The trouble that the SSBs have been facing will have to be faced by the Government. It seems that the Government is not deterred by the trouble. It is more important for them to have a greater control of the schools.

Why do the SSBs not hand over the power and the trouble that goes with it? It is solely to safeguard the original vision and mission on education for the good of the community at large.

The SSBs reject the change because they do no trust the principals, the teachers and the parents?

According to the new Bill, principals, teachers and parents will sit in the SMC. They will be esteemed. It will be more democratic. There will be more transparency. But the SSB are not happy with the situation. Does it not indicate that there is a lack of trust? Let us make an objective analysis.

Regarding principals

The principals have the greatest power and responsibility in the schools. The present Education Ordinance is not in favour of having principals sitting in the SMC. The amended Ordinance does not allow principals to chair the SMC. This is to avoid the situation where the power of the principals might become too overwhelming. In fact, as it is, the power and responsibility of the principals are already quite important.

Many documents discussed in the SMC meetings are submitted by the principals. The principals are often invited to attend and address the SMC meetings. According to the suggestion of “Report No. 7” the principal will be chairperson of the SEC. Even though in the new system the principal is not permitted to chair the SMC his responsibility and difficulties will become much greater in comparison with the present system.

His responsibility will become greater because under the single-level structure he has to bear a greater moral responsibility of all the decisions and influence. There will not be a higher level to diffuse the responsibility. Regarding greater difficulties, let us examine the situation where representatives of teachers will be sitting in the SMC.

Regarding teachers

There are already a number of SSBs that have “invited” teachers to sit in the SMC. These are teachers who share the same vision and mission of the SSB. If the new Ordinance will be passed the situation will be very different. The new Ordinance requires that there should be teachers sitting in the SMC as elected representatives.

Hong Kong society has become highly politicized. Of course what should be politicized must be politicized and we hope to have greater progress in political maturity. However, for the schools, the politicized atmosphere is not good for education.

In a politicized atmosphere most of the teachers who share the vision and mission of the SSB will have no interest to campaign as candidates to be representatives. They are happy to serve but not to compete. Among the teachers who are hired in accordance with the principle of equal opportunity it is not so difficult to find some who are happy to be mobilized by “the other force”. It will then be so easy to lose the harmonious atmosphere in the SMC meetings.

These teachers elected as representatives can speak louder than the principal in the SMC meetings because they represent the “people”. If the principal stands by the SSB his way of the cross will begin. This is what I mean when I said earlier on that his difficulties will become greater.

Regarding parents

To involve parents to participate in the affairs of the schools, especially the secondary schools, has always amounted to certain difficulties. In the new system most of the parents who share the vision and mission of the SSB will not want to stand for election into an easily politicized SMC. On the contrary, those who are mobilized by the other force will be actively taking part.

Are we being pessimistic?

Some might say my supposition is too pessimistic. They are sure that principals, teachers and parents who share our vision and mission will come forward to defend the spirit of Catholic education. I do hope future realities will prove my supposition wrong. But at present my worries are not without foundation.

Are we being divisive?

Perhaps some of our brothers and sisters would query me: Has not the above supposition already divided our teachers and parents? In fact, the teachers who are paid by the Government and the parents who do not know us well are not to be blamed if they are not over enthusiastic concerning our vision and mission. The problem lies in the fact that the new system will create an occasion for polarization.

Shall we relinquish?

If the future looks so grim who tells us to be so magnanimous to continue running schools? Today the Government is capable of running schools directly. If the Hong Kong citizens do not appreciate a multi-faceted educational system we can finally bow out. In fact some SSBs are seriously considering stepping down. But do people know how the Education Bill being discussed involves a revolutionary change in our actual situation? The Government has made a lot of publicity at various levels in the schools, whereas regarding the SSB, we have done little to make known our point of view. Before we step down we should at least make our voice heard. Otherwise we shall be ashamed to face our ancestors, those in the Church who went before us who raised money and started the noble work of education. Can we quietly abandon what they have constructed?

The new system will safeguard our vision and mission on education?

The Government tells us not to worry: In the new system our vision and mission will be safeguarded because we can write it into the Constitution.

Nevertheless, (1) The Constitution will have to be approved by the Government. (2) Even if the Constitution is approved is there any mechanism to guarantee that the schools will operate according to the vision and mission?

(1) We can understand that the Government should have the right to approve the Constitution of the SSB but we hope that it will do so with a “standard of minimum prerequisite”. The Constitution of Catholic schools written in accordance with the vision and mission of Catholic education might not conform totally to the norm laid down by the Government. But for years past, in the field of education, these schools produced visible results that are highly appreciated by the Hong Kong people. It should therefore not be difficult for the Government to give its approval. When a dispute arises between the SSB and the Government we request that it should be handled by a system of arbitration acceptable on both sides.

(2) In the present system the SMC appointed by the SSB is a safeguard that the principal employed will run the school according to the vision and mission of the SSB. In the new system it is true that the SSB can appoint 60% of the members in the SMC. But if you can imagine how a politicized SMC operates it is not difficult to understand this: The figure of 60% is not enough to safeguard the implementation of the vision and mission. We therefore request that:

a) The Chairperson of the SMC should be appointed by the SSB.

b) The alternate representatives of teachers and parents can only attend an SMC meeting when an official member is absent. Otherwise the 60% proportion is not being respected. (The real influence of a member is not limited to the voting).

c) To employ a principal has always been a very important role of the SSB and its appointed SMC. The bigger SSBs have a very thorough procedure to carry out this duty. In the new system this role will be carried out by a “Selection Committee” which is formed, ‘sharing-in-power’, by the SSB and the newly structured SMC. We are of the view that using this “politicized” power-sharing method to carry out this role is not appropriate. There will easily be conflicts of interest. It will become more difficult for the bigger SSB, in view of the good of the whole, to transfer a principal from one school to another. We insist that the employing of principals should be carried out by the SSB and its appointed SMC.

(3) In the present system the role of the Supervisor of the school is very important. Not only does he represent the SSB in the SMC. Besides attending meetings he also continues his role of representing the SSB and SMC to supervise the principal and the activities of the school.

It is peculiar that the post of the Supervisor has disappeared in both the consultation paper on school-based management and the proposed Education Bill which is being discussed by the Legislative Council. It is not mentioned in these documents. Are we to say that the present system is so very wrong and that the principal as well as the school does not need supervision? If we admit that supervision is needed who then is to carry out this supervision outside of the SMC meetings? Does it mean that henceforth, subsidized schools will be the same as government schools, under the direct care of government officials?

The Government, when queried by the SSB, gave the answer that if it is necessary to keep the post of the Supervisor it can be stated in the constitution. We are not satisfied with this answer. On the one hand the constitution has to be approved by the Government. On the other hand it will be approved only as requested in the constitution but not recognized by the Bill. The role of the supervisor will not be fully acknowledged for him to carry out his important duty.

We request that:

d) It be stated in the Bill that the SSB can appoint a supervisor (who in fact should be the chairperson of the SMC) who will act as a link between the SSB and the SMC. In the name of supervisor he can supervise and assist the principal in the operation of the school.

Fait accompli?

The Bill is already tabled in the Legislative Council. The Bills Committee had held open sessions. It is almost a “fait accompli”. Is it useful for us to speak out?

We have spoken out in the past but it has produced no result. We have asked help from Mr. Tung and he told us there was nothing he could do. The then newly appointed Secretary (for education) said he could not change the procedure that was already in motion.

The Hong Kong people have recently become more conscious of their responsibilities and rights. Will they (including the principals, teachers and parents of our schools) render us justice?

Bishop Zen

On the “Education (Amendment) Bill 2002” (Part 2)

5 October 2003 (Sunday Examiner)