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Is student-centered pedagogy impossible in Hong Kong? The case of inquiry in classrooms

Abstract

Hong Kong has been actively promoting a student-centered approach to teaching since the 1980s. Despite this effort, students in Hong Kong still tend to be traditional learners who rarely experience and gain from real student-centered learning. While teachers hold a “quantitative” concept of learning and focus on transmitting declarative knowledge to students (Biggs and Watkins, Classroom learning: Educational psychology for the Asian teacher, 1995), students generally practise “rote learning.” Constructive learning models such as inquiry remain little used by students in most Hong Kong classrooms. This article reports a study that examines the feasibility of implementing inquiry method in Kong Kong’s primary classrooms. It analyses the implementation and some outcomes of an inquiry-based project conducted in two local primary schools—a traditional elite Catholic school and a progressive, less-privileged school. Finally, it discusses the contextual factors as well as cultural issues on teachers’ perception and implementation of inquiry in teaching. These factors include the following: impacts of prevailing ideology in the community of Hong Kong, and the top-down policy-making and management by the government.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Activity Approach was promoted by the Education Department in Hong Kong in 1980s. It had a famous slogan, “learning by doing.” It based its rationale on child-centered education (CDC 1995).

  2. 2.

    TOC was Hong Kong’s version of outcome-based education in the early 1990s. It was designed to promote generic competencies across subjects. It stressed on student-centered and task-based learning.

  3. 3.

    Due to a decline in birth rate in the recent years, it is projected that student enrollment in primary schools will soon fall. As a result, the Education Bureau in Hong Kong has had a policy of closing schools in which less than 23 students are admitted to Primary 1. On September 10, 2007, this figure was reduced to 21.

  4. 4.

    In 1994, the subjects of social studies, health education, and science were fused to form an integrated subject—“general studies” in the Hong Kong primary school curriculum.

  5. 5.

    The Curriculum Development Council (1999) criticized that many teachers in Hong Kong relied too much on textbooks in teaching. It was said that teachers taught all the materials suggested on textbooks. Some teachers were found to have followed every step and every figures/diagram on textbooks without selection and adaptation. The CDC (1999) therefore suggested schools to give up using textbooks and design school-based curriculum and teaching.

  6. 6.

    Schön’s (1983) book, The Reflective Practitioner, challenged practitioners to reconsider the role of technical knowledge versus ‘artistry’ in developing professional excellence. It is said that teachers demonstrating technical rationality will have little deliberation about underlying values of educational advancement. Instead, they focus on obtaining the means to attain desired outcomes.

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Correspondence to Sze Yin Shirley Yeung.

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Yeung, S.Y.S. Is student-centered pedagogy impossible in Hong Kong? The case of inquiry in classrooms. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. 10, 377–386 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-009-9028-x

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Keywords

  • Student centered
  • Pedagogy
  • Inquiry
  • Culture of teaching