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Reforming Secondary Education Challenges to Paradigms. Kai-ming Cheng Chair Professor of Education & Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor University of Hong Kong Seminar on “Growth Strategies for Secondary Education in Asia” World Bank Malaysia, September 19, 2005.

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Reforming secondary education challenges to paradigms l.jpg

Reforming Secondary EducationChallenges to Paradigms

Kai-ming Cheng

Chair Professor of Education & Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor

University of Hong Kong

Seminar on

“Growth Strategies for Secondary Education in Asia”

World Bank

Malaysia, September 19, 2005

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The literature: the missing part

  • Basic Education

  • Secondary Education

  • Vocational Education

  • Higher Education

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Secondary education: Why now?

The Contexts

  • Society: new workplace

  • Education: new developments

  • Learning: new understanding

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  • Change in society & workplace

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Industrial Society: the Pyramid

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The Organisational Structure

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The Manpower Structure

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The Knowledge Structure

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Assumptions …

  • Large organizations

  • Parallel departments

  • Layers and ranks

  • Detailed division of labour

  • Tight structures

  • Rules and regulations

  • Credential-based recruitment

  • ……..

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Assumptions …

  • Lifelong career

  • Long-term employment

  • Presumed loyalty

  • Upward mobility

  • Escalating incomes

  • Foreseeable future

  • Retirement aspirations

  • ……..

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People in Workplace: Industrial

  • People for specific jobs

  • People are specialised

  • People are ranked

  • People implement pre-set designs

  • People follow prescribed procedures

  • People abide by rules and regulations

  • People recruited by qualifications

  • ……

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Post-industrial: SMEs

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Post-industrial: Large Organisations

Project Groups

Task Forces

Production Teams

Client Groups


Deal Team

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Task Force

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Post-industrial: Free-lancers

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Post-industrial: Workplace

Project Groups/Task Forces

Small Enterprises


The Civil Service

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Post-industrial: Workplace

  • Small organisation

  • Flat organisations

  • Loose organisations

  • Constant teamwork

  • Ill-defined labour division

  • Blurred specilization

  • …..

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Post-industrial: Individuals

  • Many free-lancers

  • Many unemployed

  • Frequent change of jobs

  • Frequent change of careers

  • Ever-changing networks

  • Frequent change of partners

  • ……..

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Post-industrial: Expectations

  • Communication

  • Learning on-demand, just-in-time

  • Team-work

  • Personal responsibilities

  • Solving problems

  • Integrating expertise

  • Self-disciplined & Self-management

  • Capacity to query, challenge, innovate

  • …….

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Large & Pyramidal

Procedures, rules & regulations

Lifelong careers

Lifelong qualifications


Small & flat

Communications & relations

Multiple careers

On-demand, just-in-time learning

Workplace & Society

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Implications for education

  • Drastic decrease of manual workers

  • Expanded need for higher education

  • Challenge to occupational identity

  • Intensified human interactions

  • Demand for more flexible learning modes and paths

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Development of Education System

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For the selected

Leading to certification



For the majority

Facing lifelong learning

Spreading to rural

Secondary Education:

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Preparation for the next stage

Higher education



Preparation for life

Change in nature

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  • Challenges to Paradigms

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  • Paradigm of


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  • Rapid expansion of higher education

  • Unemployment among less-educated

  • Middle-age unemployment

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Net entry rate into tertiary education (Type A) for selected countries, 2000

Starting 1999

  • Europe: + 25%

  • China: +100%

  • Taiwan: oversupply

  • Korea: oversupply

  • Japan: near oversupply

  • Hong Kong: 66%

  • Singapore: 75%

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The question:

If every child should be given the opportunity to learn more,

what is the point of screening at secondary level?

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Challenges to “Screening”

Challenge to paradigms

  • Belief in innate ability

    • “There are smart kids and dumb kids”

  • Belief in using knowledge for screening

    • versus lifelong & multi-source learning

  • Belief in using single indicators (IQ)

    • versus multiple intelligence

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  • Paradigm of


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  • Division of labour blurred

  • Frequent change of jobs & occupations

  • Job-study mismatch

  • Demand for generic competence

  • Diluted & delayed specialisation in higher education

  • ……

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Specialization in HE: Evolution

Generic Capacity Building

Common Core

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Specialization: Evolution in HE

  • Engineering: Washington Accord (30%)

  • Business Schools (50%)

  • Journalism schools (70%)

  • Europe: Bologna Process (3 + 2 + 2)

  • UK: Foundations Degree (2 + 3 + 3)

  • China: Fudan, Xian Jiaoda

Generic Capacity Building

Common Core

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Specialization: Bologna

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The question:

If higher education has delayed specialisation,

what is the point of specialisation at secondary level?

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Challenges to Paradigms

  • Belief that education is for classifying people

  • Belief in people’s occupational identity

  • Belief that education is more specialised at higher levels

  • ……

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  • Paradigm of


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  • Students also learn what are not taught

  • Students also learn from alternative sources

  • Technology has made acquisition of knowledge much easier

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The question:

If teacher is no longer the only source of knowledge, what is the new role for teachers?

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Challenges to paradigms

  • Belief that learning is transmission of knowledge from those who know to those who don’t know

  • Belief that learning is about the known and not the unknown

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  • Paradigm of


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  • The expectation for good characters and personalities

  • The demand for human relational and social competence

  • The renewed importance for values, attitudes, emotions, ethics, principles, …

  • ………..

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The question

If society expects graduates to engage in more intensive human relations,

why is such not formally reflected in designed school-lives?

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Challenges to Paradigms

  • Belief in academic study as proxy for learning

  • Belief in classroom learning as the only reliable learning

  • Belief in examination scores as the only trustworthy measure of human capacity

  • …..

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  • Paradigm of


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  • Call for flexible curriculum

  • Learning is recognised beyond institutions

    • Credit-unit Bank in Korea

    • Lifelong Learning Passport in Taiwan

  • Administrative considerations have taken over learning needs

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The question

If all organisations are becoming smaller and more flexible,

are schools also prepared to explore alternative ways of organisation?

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Challenges to Paradigms

  • Belief that learning takes place only in schools

  • Belief that learning takes place only during structured activities

    • Classes, time-tables, subjects, specialised teachers, set menu curriculum,

  • Belief that learning should be under the control of schools and institutions

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analytic, regulated, structured, clear-cut, uniform, convergent, normative, neat, assertive and reducible to parameters


holistic, flexible, loose, fuzzy, plural, divergent, liberal, complex, speculative and tolerant of multiplex concepts

After all …

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  • Reforms in Secondary Education

    a scan

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Reform trends

  • Blurring subject boundaries

  • Creating diverse learning activities

  • Introducing “moral” elements

  • Reforming examinations

  • Alternative ways of organsing school learning

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Blurring subject boundaries






  • Key-Learning Areas (Hong Kong)

  • Co-curriculum/After School Education

  • Reduction of formal curriculum

    • Japan 30%

    • Singapore 33%

  • Rise of International Baccalaureate


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Diverse Learning Experiences

International Exchange

Visits to Rural, Deprived Communities

Community Services/NGO

Internship, Placement, Mentorship

Design, Music, Drama, Sports

Executives of Organisations

Student Organisations, residence



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Diverse Learning Experiences

Learning across Cultures

Learning to Care

Learning to Serve

Creativity Learning

Workplace Learning

Leadership Learning

Alternative Learning




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  • Tacit Knowledge

  • Social Competence

  • Values Education

  • Civic Education

  • Character Education

  • Personality Education

  • Moral Education

Learning across Cultures

Learning to Care

Learning to Serve

Creativity Learning

Workplace Learning

Leadership Learning

Alternative Learning




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Music, Sports, Art, Drama, Dance


Learning cross cultures

Student Residence, Student Unions, Associations & Clubs, Young Leaders

Rural Visits, NGOs, Community Services, Church

Learning to care

Learning to serve

Workplace Learning

Creativity Learning

Internship, Practicum, Placement, Fieldwork

Leadership Learning

Learning to live together

Classrooms, Libraries, Laboratories

Academic Learning


Exchange, Youth Conferences

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Reforming Examinations

Student Portfolios

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Conventional Classes

Learning Communities

Alternative organisations

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After all …

We are facing

Diversity, Uncertainty, Change, …


Learning anywhere, anytime

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Knowledge acquisition

Personal development



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Thank you


[email protected]

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