Many paths to knowledge to be found on lifelong journey

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 12:00am

IN TODAY'S knowledge-based economy, education equals power and qualifications are the key to climbing the ladder of success.

But many paths can lead to the same destination and leaving school with less-than-perfect results is no reason to give up the dream of a degree.

At present, 48 per cent of local secondary school leavers have access to tertiary education of some sort - from a vocational qualification to entering university full-time. But the government plans to raise that figure so that by 2011 at least 60 per cent of school leavers will continue their studies to a higher level.

That means fiercer competition in the employment market. Those who lack formal qualifications may be passed over for younger, less experienced but better qualified candidates. Leaving school after Form Five - or even earlier - is no longer an excuse for giving up learning. To remain competitive, education has to be viewed as a lifelong journey.

Government-led initiative Project Yi Jin aims to provide a broad-based education for secondary school leavers and adult learners. At the end of the scheme, students receive a qualification that is generally considered the equivalent of five passes at HKCEE, although it is not broken down subject by subject.

Continuing education schools across Hong Kong offer a host of full- and part-time programmes at all levels. This presents students with a wide variety of step-by-step study routes, progressing towards a degree.

The University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education is one of the biggest providers of lifelong learning - the school has more than 100,000 students enrolled in more than 900 courses. Most courses are delivered part time through the school's 12 learning centres. Starting with short courses and foundation courses that do not result in a qualification, HKU Space offers courses at all levels, up to master's and doctoral degrees.

But a full degree is not the only end goal. In many cases, it is not even the one that would be the most beneficial. For many students, vocational and professional qualifications at a sub-degree level are a more rewarding and practical alternative that offer a quicker return in getting on track for a degree. The equivalent of higher than a Form Seven education, higher diplomas, professional diplomas and associate degrees are available in a wide range of subjects from schools across Hong Kong.

The diplomas are more vocational and aimed at practical professional knowledge, while the associate degree takes a more academic and general approach. The merits of these qualifications are widely recognised by employers.

Taking a sub-degree programme does not prevent people from going on to study for a full degree.

As the need for skilled workers continues to grow, pressure for the right qualifications can only increase. But the continuing and part-time education sector is rising to meet that challenge. With ever more dynamic and flexible options for study coming on stream, this is the right time to pursue higher learning - on any level.