Topics such as the medium of instruction and class size in local primary and secondary schools have been the subject of regular discussion in Hong Kong. They are, though, just a couple of the numerous aspects of education reform which have been tackled by the local teaching community in recent years.
The Master of Education (MEd) being introduced by the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) is therefore a timely addition to meet the education profession's growing need for greater knowledge about recent reforms in the sector.
According to Grace Mak, principal lecturer at the HKIEd and coordinator for the MEd programme, the course is designed to strengthen the abilities of professionals working in schools and other educational settings to meet the latest challenges. The HKIEd has long been a pioneer in promoting expertise in early childhood and primary education and has extensive experience in running teacher education in these fields. The new programme is especially intended to meet the need for advanced professional training and academic studies in these specific sectors.
"To cope with the changes brought about by the reforms, the programme will cover important elements of the local curriculum," says Dr Mak. The five areas of specialisation will be Chinese and English language education, early childhood education, teacher professional development, and education management and leadership. The three core modules will be critical use of research, assessment and evaluation, and macro perspectives in education.
"Today's educators must have a clear view of the sector as a whole and its future direction," Dr Mak explains. "For example, reforms are leading to fundamental changes in the purposes and formats of assessment. Students will be assessed not only in conventional tests and public exams, but also in a more naturalistic, continuous format in school. The change requires knowledge of assessment theories and strategies. Both headmasters and teachers must familiarise themselves with these changes in order to prepare and execute the best strategies."
Another important element of the programme is to develop participants' ability to make informed, critical use of research. Rather than passively accepting information in reports and policy documents at face value, a critical reader should have insight into the underpinning values and be able to make independent judgments.
The choice of Chinese as the medium of instruction for the programme, with the exception of the specialisation in English language education, corresponds to the use of Chinese in the majority of Hong Kong's kindergartens and primary schools. Students who choose to write a dissertation can do it in Chinese or English, while exceptions may be made for native English speakers. The overall quality of the programme will be guaranteed by a proven quality assurance mechanism at the HKIEd, which now has self-accrediting status.
As the teaching profession becomes increasingly competitive, advanced qualifications will be essential for those who want to keep pace with changes in the sector. "While there are generally good career opportunities in early childhood and primary education at the moment, teaching professionals are aware of the need to better equip themselves for competition," Dr Mak says. "An MEd course will be relevant for developing their expertise and expanding their skill sets."