Risk culture of late modernity? : Mass tutoring enrolment of Hong Kong's senior secondary students

  • Cheuk Wai, Jeffrey CHEUNG

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Mass tutoring on senior secondary curricula, with specific focus on examination syllabi and techniques, has expanded rapidly in Hong Kong in the recent decade. Through semi-structured in-depth interviews, conducted in summer 2007, with 20 certificate level (Secondary 4 and 5) and 21 advanced level (Secondary 6 and 7) students with various level of involvement in mass tutoring, this study discovered:

(1) Risk awareness and future-oriented mentality: Students expected that mass tutoring could help improve their performance in public examinations, and could secure good grades. To them, better grades mean higher chance to get a recognized qualification, fulfil their career aspiration, and secure a better life in the uncertain future.

(2) Individualization of decisions and choices: Students thought that they should be responsible and accountable for their own life-choices. The decision to enrol in mass tutoring was made on their own. When they needed advice on choices of tutors, they referred to the opinions from the schoolmates with similar learning experience and academic performance as themselves. In order to locate the most suitable tutors, some students even collected various tutors’ lecture notes or recordings for comparison, or attended free-of-charge trial lessons before finalizing their choices.

(3) Individual reflexivity and conditional trust on authority: In terms of enhancement of academic performance, a number of students trusted cram school tutors more than daytime school teachers, as they thought the former more familiar with the examination requirement than the latter. Nevertheless, they did not completely trust their tutors. They evaluated from time to time the effectiveness and suitability of the tutorials they were attending, and discontinued and made changes if necessary.

(4) Detraditionalization of schooling values: Students viewed senior secondary education different from more idealistic lifelong learning. In their eyes, getting good grades and preparing for good prospect in further studies and career are of utmost importance in senior secondary schooling. Some of them even preferred daytime school teachers to adopt cram school tutors’ approach.

With the above findings, the study argues that the microscopic phenomenon of blossoming mass tutoring enrolment is a reflection of the macroscopic risk culture of late modernity, which has been addressed by Anthony Giddens and Ulrich Beck.

The study unfolds several specific qualities of individual life and social environment in the post-industrial era. To deal with the uncertain social environment, individuals prefer adapting to the existing social order rather than imposing changes to the external social environment. Appreciated traditional values not conforming to the modern social order will only be practised only after an individual has achieved ontological security in the highly modernized social environment. Individuals are locked in a cage where they had to endlessly appeal to uncertain measures to deal with the uncertainties embedded in daily life.

This study also reveals the unbalanced power between individuals and social structure in the structuration process, and the disparity in power of risk negotiation due to wealth difference in the highly modernized environment, which were under-examined by the proponents of the late modernity paradigm.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorHau Nung Annie CHAN (Supervisor) & Hong Kin KWOK (Supervisor)

Cite this