PHOTOGRAPHY – ‘Elite’ – Michael Chan’s Commentary on Education & Poverty

Michael Chan’s work makes a direct link between poverty in Hong Kong and its outdated education system, which emphasises constant assessment over creativity. His creative photographic series ‘Elite’ is best explained in his own words…

If the use of the word ‘poverty’ is meant to be understood as ‘absolute poverty’, then there may not be that many ‘poor people’ in Hong Kong. This kind of narrow interpretation differs from the social reality of Hong Kong today. To understand Hong Kong’s ‘poverty problem’, first we must clarify the definition of poverty.

The Gini index in Hong Kong is amongst the top five in the world, which means there is a serious gap between the rich and the poor. All shades of unfair social phenomena – such as educational favouritism, monopolies, real estate hegemony, difficulties facing the elderly and new immigrants, etc. – all contribute to the growth of poverty.

‘Poverty’ as a social phenomenon and as an issue is difficult to summarize in a few photos. In this age of ‘knowledge economy’, good education is the key to helping our next generation ‘move upward’ and escape poverty. To fundamentally address and solve the problem of poverty in Hong Kong, the government must focus on reforming the existing educational system. Hence, in this series I consider, reflect and focus on the problems in the educational system.

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Hong Kong has been promoting ‘elitism’, turning quality education into talent education. The government’s main focus is on the high- reputation schools and the graduating elite. The emergence of private schools has created an atmosphere of discrimination and segregation amongst schools and students. The government has forgotten that education is fundamentally democratic – for every student. Each student, whether elite or ordinary, rich or poor, should be treated equally.

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Government authorities have launched numerous times large scale poverty relief measures, but have never addressed poverty alleviation through education. For children of poor families, education is a way to help them get out of the poverty cycle. The government should conduct a comprehensive review of the current outdated educational system, break away from elitism and a single directional teaching model, so that all children can receive quality education.

 This work is ongoing as I consider other contributory social problems in order to create a more complete series of photographs that explore poverty in Hong Kong.