Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education: Postscript


A few months ago I published an extensive blog post about Hong Kong’s Academy for Gifted Education (HKAGE)

On 21 December 2011, a new question was asked in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) about the progress made by the Academy to date.

The answer included revised figures for many of the elements set out in the original post. This postscript introduces the new figures and compares them with those which I supplied previously.

Numbers of learners supported by the Academy

The latest reply gives total numbers admitted by school year as:

School Year 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 TOTAL
1212 1409 1340 3961

These figures are different to those given in HKAGE press releases (which may have used a calendar year rather than an academic year):

Year 2009 2010 2011 TOTAL
700 1351 1200 3251

and those for 2008/09 and 2009/10 are different again to those given to LegCo in January 2010:

School Year 2008/09 2009/10
1357 1385

In the new answer, we are also given the domain into which students were admitted over the period 2008-11 (some students were admitted to more than one domain):

Domain Humanities Leadership Maths Sciences
No. admitted 857 864 1249 1159

It seems that there were no admissions during this period to the other two domains mentioned on the Academy’s website – Multi-Disciplinary and Personal Growth/Social Development.

The new answer also tells us from which grade these students were recruited:

Grade S1 S2 S3 S4 S5 S6 S7
141 305 709 1413 540 987 43

showing that S4 – the first year of senior secondary education – supplied by far the largest number of students, followed by S6.

The question asks specifically about primary sector provision. The answer refers to existing primary pilot activity, adding that the Academy has also accepted some primary pupils into activities intended primarily for secondary students and intends to expand its primary pilot provision. It continues:

‘Seeing the ever increasing demand for services from primary school students and their parents, the HKAGE will provide at least 6 primary programmes in mathematics and humanities within 2011/12 school year…It is planned to provide more primary programmes in the near future…Currently the EDB has been running 10 web-based courses for students of P4–S3 on astronomy, earth sciences, mathematics, humanities, and palaeontology. EDB will continue to run enrichment programmes for students, including programmes for those aged 10 or under.’

An Appendix provides figures for numbers of students undertaking different kinds of activities provided by the Academy, which are far larger than those given for students admitted to Academy programmes.

This is somewhat confusing because there is no obvious correlation between the number of students ‘admitted to the Academy’ (total 3,961) and the number ‘enrolled’ (total 10,440) or, indeed, the different number ‘served’ (total 14,228). The definition of these three terms and the distinctions between them are not made fully clear.

I had assumed that the figures for ‘number of students enrolled’ must be the total number of student enrolments (ie some students undertook several activities) rather than the total number of students, but the footnote to the figures in the total column says otherwise.

There is again some inconsistency with the January 2010 response to LegCo over the number of activities offered. The earlier answer says there were 41 activities in 2008-09 and that a total of 75 activities were planned for 2009/10. This latest answer says 40 or 45 in 2008/09, depending whether or not one includes the second set, and either 62 or 71 for 2009/10.

Adding in 110 activities in 2010/11 gives a grand total of 226 activities over the three year period, 123 of them falling into the category of ‘courses’.

Number of teachers and parents supported by the Academy

The figures provided for the engagement of teachers and parents relate to a different four-year period which begins in March 2007 and ends (presumably) at the end of the 2010/11 academic year.

The headline figures given are 121 programmes for 7,820 teachers and 88 ‘deliverables’ for 16,788 parents. The associated tables in the Appendix add further detail.

Taking teachers first, it is clear that the annual number served has declined somewhat over the period, from 2008/09 onwards.

The figures provided to LegCo in 2010 were almost 1,100 participants in 2008/09 and a projected 1,900 in 2009/10, but here the comparable figures are 2,743 and 2,689. It would appear that the basis for the calculation has changed between the two answers.

Thematic seminars, outreach talks, structured courses and thematic workshops respectively are the most attended activities.

Moving on to parents, outreach talks account for the majority of the service. Comparing with the answer to LegCo in 2010, which says that there were 1,241 beneficiaries in 2008/09, this table suggests that 5,420 parents were served in that year. It is not possible to reconcile the two figures.

The annual figure for parents served is fairly stable across the period, although number in 2010/11 are slightly down on the previous year.

The Appendix gives separate figures for the Academy’s Consultation and Assessment Centre:

These show that calls to the Helpline reduced markedly in 2010/11, while General Enquiries have increased markedly. There have been only 43 face-to-face consultations over the three year period.

Since the Academy’s original targets were to serve 5,000 parents and 600 teachers a year, and 10,000 learners over the period 2008-2011, we can see that, on the basis of these latest figures it is:

  • exceeding its target for learners
  • heavily exceeding its target for teachers and
  • falling slightly short on its target for parents in two out of three years (unless one includes the figures from the Consultation and Assessment Centre.

However, there are unanswered questions about the relationship between this set of figures and those previously published – and indeed about the nature and inter-relationship of the different figures for student involvement.

Budget and Expenditure

The Academy was established with an endowment of HKD 200m which was expected to last at least 10 years.

My post recorded that the audited accounts for 2008-09 showed income of HKD 3.2m (largely interest on the endowment) against expenditure of HKD 9.2m. For 2009-10, projected income was expected to be lower (only HKD 0.25m was earned between April and November 2009), while projected expenditure was forecast at HKD 25.1m.

The figures given in answer to this latest question show income in line with previous figures, but actual expenditure in 2009-10 undershot the forecast by almost HKD 10m.

Since 2008-09, annual expenditure has increased by roughly HKD 5m per year, but we do not know how close the Academy is to achieving ‘steady state’ nor are we told of its financial projections for future years.I am unsure of the accounting basis for including ‘the unrealised gain on the investment in Schroders’, which presumably refers to the location of that proportion of the endowment that the Academy does not yet need to draw down.

On the basis of this data, assuming that the Schroders investment is guaranteed, and will continue at a similar rate, the financial health of the Academy is better than I had previously assumed.

However, if the Schroders figure is excluded, it becomes more open to question whether the endowment will cover costs over 10 years. It appears that income generated from services is currently minimal and that the Academy needs to increase funding from that source to guarantee its longer-term financial sustainability.

Evaluation

The question asks about overall evaluation of the Academy’s effectiveness. The answer refers to:

  • the Board of Directors appointed by EDB, including its Strategy and Planning and Finance and Investment Committees;
  • the working groups in place for each Division of the Academy, by which means ‘a number of independent professionals have been invited to advise on the design and development of programmes/services’
  • the imminent establishment of the Academy’s Research Division which will initially ‘
    concentrate its efforts on the further development of an evidence-based Evaluation Framework that will operate across all Divisions’.

But there is no commitment to a full-scale independent evaluation, as suggested in my earlier post:

‘The apparent lack of a rigorous formative and summative evaluation seems to be a lacuna in all plans, from the inception of the Academy onwards.

It is particularly odd that the EMB is not seeking an evidence base with which to justify the level of the Government’s financial investment in the Academy – and HKAGE itself surely has a vested interest in securing evidence to show the positive impact it has on students’ learning outcomes and the educational effectiveness of partner schools.

We have seen how earlier evaluation exercises have avoided any attempt to pin down a measurable impact on student attainment. It is expressly to be hoped that, despite the conceptual obstacles, a future evaluation of HKAGE does not fall into the same trap.’

Conclusion

Overall, the new set of figures suggests that Hong Kong’s Academy is in fairly rude health, though some marginal doubts must remain given the questions I have raised about the figures above and the problems I have encountered in reconciling them with earlier data.

The new Research Division may well want to undertake some early work to flesh out a set of rigorous quantitative and qualitative performance indicators that will provide a more robust scorecard against which to assess the Academy’s future progress. Whether it will decide to commission independent external evaluation remains to be seen.

GP

January 2012

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