The definition of “quality education” given by Singapore’s Acting Minister for Education in 2004 (referred to in the blog on 6 August) is in line with William Glasser’s view on education, detailed in his book “Choice Theory”.
According to Glasser, the main reason why so many students are doing badly is “schooling”, which he defines as the practice of forcing students to acquire knowledge or memorise facts in school that have limited or no value in the real world. To improve education, we must get rid of schooling and the belief that “what is taught in school is right and that students who won’t learn it should be punished”, and redefine education as using and improving knowledge rather than acquiring it. Glasser believes that if we force students to learn and fail them if they don’t, students will be alienated, and they will “retaliate” by taking schoolwork, teachers and school out of their quality worlds. Many then drop out of school into lives of violence, crime, drugs and unloving sex. He posits that we should have quality schools which are “coercion-free and failure-free”. In these quality schools, students are led by the teachers to learn to speak, listen, read, and write and to use these skills to solve problems. What is behind everything the teachers do is choice theory, by which Glasser means the teachers put themselves, school and schoolwork into the students’ quality world, through good relationships and through providing students with choices.
Now contrast these ideas from Mr Shanmugaratnam and Mr Glasser with the drug testing scheme recently proposed by the Hong Kong government, under which secondary school students, with parents’ consent, will be randomly selected to provide urine samples for drug testing. The government officials are trying to do all the sugar-coating they can, by claiming that the testing is “entirely voluntary” (only cases where students refuse to provide urine samples will be followed up by social workers!) and that “we are not aiming at penalising students – we just want to help them” (students testing positive will just be counselled but not expelled, suspended, or criminally charged!) and probably satisfying themselves that they have done enough to fool everyone into believing that they have provided the students with a "choice". They will never see that by introducing such a witch-hunting practice which will destroy what little trust or respect many students have for school and the entire system, they are driving the students to cast school and the system out of their quality world, to a road of no return.
In this sense, the Catholic Church is absolutely right in not giving its support for the scheme.