Education must meet new challenges

Updated: 2016-06-13 07:14

By Sonny Lo(HK Edition)

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Sonny Lo writes that the city's education system also needs updating to maximize the ample opportunities that will be flowing from the Belt and Road Initiative

Much has been written about how Hong Kong's economy can readjust itself to leverage on the country's Belt and Road (B&R) Initiative, but little has been said on how our education system should be repositioned and reformed to take the fullest advantage of B&R's opportunities.

The Education Bureau has already encouraged local universities to reach out to different countries in the world to facilitate student exchanges and academic interactions so that B&R Initiative can be implemented smoothly. On June 7, the government announced that each Hong Kong student who pursues studies in a university that belongs to countries under the B&R would be subsidized up to HK$53,000. This was an important step that should trigger other necessary reforms at secondary and university levels. The government and the education sector need to introduce a holistic approach so that Hong Kong people can maximize the many benefits flowing from B&R.

Education must meet new challenges

First and foremost, our students in secondary schools and universities must be taught much more about the society, the economy, culture and politics of countries all over the world, especially Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Most of the countries in these three parts of the globe have undergone transformations in their socio-political, cultural and economic fields. But the important developments have not been given much attention by universities in Hong Kong. Our students are, generally, uninterested in global politics, economy and society, so they don't care about the languages and cultures of all these countries. As such, it is imperative that our universities take the necessary steps to make up for such shortcomings to allow our students to become more like world citizens, facilitating their integration into other countries where they wish to pursue their professional careers, represent Hong Kong businesses or operate their own new startups. They must expand their outlook, and consequently their career development potential, well beyond their birthplace. They cannot afford to remain inward looking and parochial in their attitudes. In short, they must operate as though it is a borderless world to remain relevant as communication is now instantaneous and travel no long impeded by long distance.

To some extent, the liberal studies in the secondary school curriculum may have to be reformed to strengthen students' knowledge of world societies and economies, the exchange programs at university level may have to explore how to enhance links between Hong Kong and the outside world. If this is not done, Hong Kong students will be handicapped by their limited understanding of foreign cultures. This will thus make them ill-equipped to contribute to the nation's B&R Initiative.

Second, summer internships and student exchange programs at secondary and university level will have to be reformed in such a way that Hong Kong's linkages with the outside world will be substantially enhanced, including more financial subsidies and support from the government and sponsorships from private organizations. However, it remains to be seen how the internationalization efforts of all local universities can reach out strategically to different parts of the world. The crux of the problem is that while local universities are encouraged to enhance their internationalization efforts, there seems to be a lack of coordination from the government. Unless financial subsidies are forthcoming from either the government or private sector organizations, students will be unable to take part in exchanges to these countries, and internationalization efforts will encounter limitations.

Third, research centers in our private sector and local universities should perhaps enhance their research efforts at deepening the societal understanding of the global implications of B&R. Some private sector think tanks have already held conferences and seminars to promote the B&R, but whether a better understanding of the massive project's broader geopolitical, economic and societal benefits can be more fully embraced by Hong Kong people in different occupational sectors remains a gigantic and difficult task. Ideally, the seminars and conferences organized by think tanks and research centers will have to be strategic, targeting different industrial, commercial and professional sectors to maximize the gains and benefits to various occupations.

Fourth, the cooperation between the think tanks in Hong Kong and their counterparts on the mainland, and the collaborative research between local universities and those on the mainland will need to be enhanced. At present, Hong Kong remains passive in reaction to B&R despite the breathtaking opportunities it will generate. It appears that big business as well as the education sector are not yet fully convinced that B&R can jump-start our flagging economy and lead us into a more prosperous future.

Hong Kong's response must be more proactive, more comprehensive, more coordinated, and more ambitious in terms of the scope and networks of collaboration. Otherwise, the B&R will benefit only a small sector of our society and economy, with limited overall impact likely and a golden opportunity possibly wasted.

To stress how important B&R can be to our future educational officials, university researchers, advisors to private think tanks and even secondary school teachers should gather together and brainstorm on how Hong Kong can capitalize on B&R. Then our economy will really benefit from this geopolitical, economically globalized and socio-culturally significant massive undertaking for the foreseeable future.

(HK Edition 06/13/2016 page9)