“What's the Point When We Can't Even Afford a Home?” Competition, Competence, and Agency Among Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese Tertiary Students

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 11:21
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Benjamin CHANG, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, Hong Kong
For over 15 years, the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB) has attempted to address paradigm shifts related to the emergence of the globalized economy and knowledge society.  Through reform policies like Learning To Learn and the New Senior Secondary curriculum (implemented in stages beginning in the early 2000s), the EDB has rapidly revamped its educational system to boost mastery of the core competencies that are supposedly essential to competing in the global marketplace.  Indeed, Hong Kong’s continued success as one of the top achievers in TIMSS and PISA scores can be a testament to the effectiveness of its reforms.  Yet there remain strong contentions in scholarship and public discourse concerning the state of Hong Kong’s educational system and its impact towards an unequal social order.  Despite high rankings, Hong Kong is critiqued as being too focused on exams, competition, and test preparation.  Critiques hold that such a focus does not lead to real-world competence or greater social-economic development, but instead reifies existing stratification and elitism within a society that already has the highest income gap between rich and poor of any developed economy.

This paper examines these issues of competition, competence, and agency (socioeconomic, political) from the perspective of tertiary students from Hong Kong or mainland China, in the aftermath of the 2014 Umbrella Movement struggles.  Utilizing a critical sociocultural framework, this paper reports on a study that conducted individual and focus group interviews with students across different campuses, with an emphasis on how they articulated their views on pedagogy, empowerment, and futures.  Drawing from the author’s previous research on similar issues with Chinese students in North America, this paper nuances notions of the Chinese learner, Confucian values and ethics, and student agency across the Chinese diaspora.  Ultimately, this paper generates implications for teacher education, Chinese studies, and educational equity.