The half-hour news segment on RTHK Radio 3 this morning seems curiously focused on one part of the world. Following a genuinely important lead story on international recognition of Syrian rebels, attention swiftly turns to a British court that has overturned the extradition of a Jordanian alleged terrorist on human rights grounds. Officials are angry, and the guy’s lawyers happy. Then we are told about someone resigning from the BBC because of some scandal about a story about pedophiles (but not the same as the BBC’s last pedophile thing). Then we get into serious detail about the situation at the BBC. Then we hear that the guy who resigned had a massive payoff and that British politicians are getting worked up about it. Then we hear said politicians intoning in Parliament or somewhere. Then we get an exceedingly lengthy interview with RTHK’s ‘UK correspondent’ Gavin-something telling us even more – and more – about events at his country’s public broadcaster.
Phew. Eventually we move on, and the next story is about how companies like Starbucks and Amazon are mysteriously paying little or no tax on their business operations. In the UK, that is. Hong Kong gets a brief mention while I am brushing my teeth; I think it concerns companies falling victim to email scams. Then it’s back to the only place that really matters, with the announcer reciting at length from that list that never stops coming down the newswires: Manchester 3, Rotherham 2; Chelsea 2, Bolton 1; Arsenal 1, blah-blah blah-blah, with a last-minute free kick that sounds startlingly similar to yesterday’s last-minute free kick. And that’s your half-hour news cycle, culminating with the air pollution index for downtown London. The name of this show? Hong Kong Today.
Is this what they call de-Sinification?
I had tuned in hoping to hear something about Hong Kong Education Secretary Eddie Ng’s announcement that he wants to increase the length of free education for each child from 12 to 15 years – which is a pretty big deal, even if the details are vague (RTHK3 gives it a quick mention online). This means a real increase in recurrent expenditure, highlighting a contrast between CY Leung’s administration and that of his predecessor Donald Tsang. It also implies a redistribution of wealth from the better-off who pay direct taxes to the less well-off who don’t, in our highly unequal city.
Most of all, it suggests a positive attempt at social engineering. That’s an unpopular phrase, like ‘eugenics’, but governments inevitably influence the structure of society actively or inactively. Donald Tsang was involved in ‘social engineering’ by not providing free schooling for little kids. By reversing that state of affairs, CY Leung’s team would offer a possibility for children born into poorer homes to earn more than they otherwise would in adulthood.
Sir Bow-Tie’s first administration did introduce a small-scale voucher scheme for kindergartens. Eddie Ng’s idea looks like a major expansion of that, and so we will unavoidably have arguments over the sums involved. Sources mention HK$16,000 per toddler a year, or some HK$1,300 a month, which doesn’t sound like it will buy much pre-schooling, unless they pack the kids in 100 to a class (and why not – they’re small, right?). Teachers’ unions are also muttering, though apparently unsure whether to welcome or oppose the plan.
Intriguingly, the Standard’s story hints at juicier controversy to come: more affluent parents, a commentator says, ‘do not want the government to intervene’. I’m not sure what this means. But I do know our hyper-ambitious middle-class parents go to enormous lengths to get their precious princes and princesses into the right kindergartens. The elite, exclusive ones full of high-IQ, piano-playing, Mandarin-speaking toddlers destined for Harvard and greatness as highly paid accountants. Could it be that Eddie Ng’s subsidy plans might crack the doors to such establishments open a bit more to the somewhat less wealthy, thus increasing competition for spaces? Maybe there’s another explanation; either way, this new policy will probably remind us that there are always losers as well as winners when you make things fairer.
Now back to the studio for the latest riveting in-depth update on a distant land’s public broadcaster’s resignation scandal crisis meltdown thing…