But what is quality? And what is quality education? To show how tricky trying to answer this question is, I tried an Internet search and here are some interesting findings:
1. Searching “what is quality education” from wikianswers.com
Result: “This question has not been answered yet.”
2. Searching “quality education” from http://www.edb.gov.hk/ (Hong Kong Education Bureau’s website)
Result: The first 40 returns (Life's too short for me to go any further!) are all related to “Quality Education Fund” (Says a lot about the typical Hong Kong mentality that money can solve a lot of problems, including the problem about quality education.)
3. Searching “what is quality education from http://www.edb.gov.hk/ (Hong Kong Education Bureau’s website)
Result: “We cannot find any results that match your keyword(s).”
4. Searching “quality education” from http://www.moe.gov.sg/ (Singapore Ministry of Education’s website)
Result: The first ten returns have a few speeches in which the term “quality education” is mentioned. This is a definition extracted from one of the speeches, given by the Acting Minister for Education, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, in 2004:
“A quality education is about all the experiences our students go through, not just what they learn for their examinations. It is about how our students work and play with each other, and engage with the community around them. Our schools will help our young make the most of the years they have together, interacting, roughing it out together, and making friendships. The challenges they overcome together, the long hours they spend training together, and the fun times and anxieties they share as they grow up together, will be the experiences that they cherish for life. They are also the experiences of youth that quietly bind us together as Singaporeans. They are the experiences that tie us together as a people, regardless of race, religion and social background.
“These experiences are not incidental to education. They are at the core of the total education that our schools want to provide. I urge parents to support schools in their efforts to provide this total education, to join in and cheer on these efforts as volunteers or coaches, and to encourage our children to make the most of the opportunities they get in school. We should all accept the knocks and scrapes that our children take as they grow and learn. And we should let our children do what they enjoy, and to savour their adventure together…
“As educationists and planners in MOE, anything that we do – or don’t do – has tremendous impact on our schools. We must work together as one. A quality education means quality delivered and experienced on the ground - in each classroom and school.
“We will therefore keep pushing authority to the ground. We will let schools make the decisions that shape quality. We will give teachers more space to innovate, to interact with their students, and to develop themselves. It is the energy and imagination of our teachers, and their ability to touch the hearts of their students, that determines the quality of education. We have to let them take charge of their teaching.
“And just as we expect our students to be innovative, we have to listen to students themselves and take their ideas seriously. Including their ideas on how to run the school, and what they wish for in education.
“We have to be constantly open to suggestions, look for new ways of doing things, and be willing to occasionally make a break with the past. That is how we will stay ahead in education.”
To summarise, while education is all the experiences that children have when they learn and grow together, quality education is about the quality of these experiences children have in the classroom and school. It is notable that the speech urges the Singaporean government official to "let schools make the decisions that shape quality", "let [teachers] take charge of their teaching" and "let our children do what they enjoy". Impressive indeed, this coming from a government which is widely regarded as authoritarian, and also in comparison with what one can find from the Hong Kong Education Bureau website.
More on the topic later.