Providing a meaningful learning experience
Education has always been about more than receiving and reciting information but about improving one's capacity to analyse information and thereby store a greater range of knowledge. Teachers must be able to inspire students to be curious about the world, and enrich themselves by learning through experience as well as from books.
Hong Kong's education reforms, which will be implemented in 2012 with a revised education structure and curricula, are a belated acknowledgment of the importance of critical thinking and open-mindedness over rote learning. And while it may not have been planned this holistically, the decision by the mainland's Education Ministry to allow Hong Kong students to apply to mainland universities without taking the national exam in 2012 complements this spirit of the Hong Kong education reforms.
The number of Hong Kong applications to the annual national exams has been rising steadily in recent years and the relaxation of the rules will therefore respond to this demand - last year there were 830 applicants, 500 of whom were admitted. Currently there are 10,979 Hong Kong students enrolled in tertiary institutions on the mainland. It is unclear whether the relaxation of the rules in 2012 will immediately result in more Hong Kong students taking up mainland places, but at least this will now become a more realistic option.
No doubt studying at a mainland university will have its pros and cons. Students will be exposed to a completely new way of life and perception of the world. Hopefully, they will become infected with the thirst for knowledge and the phenomenal work ethic within the top universities, such as Peking University and Tsinghua, and develop personal and social qualities which may not have been developed had they remained at a Hong Kong university.
The disadvantage of being away from home studying at a university which has yet to climb the international rankings is obvious, but the whole purpose of academic exchange is to learn from diversity - and sometimes adversity. The experience of a Hong Kong student having studied at a mainland university will also be an obvious attraction to potential employers.
Meanwhile, back in Hong Kong, universities are placing more emphasis on assessing their lecturers based on their teaching qualities, with teaching courses for new academics, and promotion opportunities, being granted on teaching performance. Again these reforms are aimed at complementing the educational reforms in 2012 when traditional three-year university courses will be extended to four years.
One professor in charge of implementing the new initiatives at Chinese University said she hoped that eventually teachers would 'know how to better develop the students' critical and problem-solving skills'.
It is time to provide incentives to academics to become more creative in the way they interact with students and inspire learning. The ability to produce a large volume of research published in journals is still a mark of a good academic institution, but universities must also provide a meaningful learning experience to all their students, even those who have no interest in moving in to academia.
If this region wishes to see a new generation of bright, inquisitive and open-minded graduates who can inject much needed innovation into our traditional strengths, then it should strive for the success of initiatives such as increasing accessibility to mainland universities, and improving teaching qualities of university lecturers.