• Fri
  • Dec 19, 2014
  • Updated: 3:01pm
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 May, 2014, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 4:26am

Help improve Hong Kong education instead of choosing the exit option

Kelly Yang says the crisis of confidence in Hong Kong education can be overcome as long as we're willing to meet the problems head-on


Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school writing program for children in Hong Kong. At KYP, she teaches creative writing, public speaking and critical reasoning. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Follow Kelly on Twitter: @kellyyanghk

I'm tired of losing my best students to US and British boarding schools. I'm tired of losing good friends to Singapore or other countries. I'm tired of reading headlines warning that Hong Kong is not the place to be any more or isn't innovative enough. It's time to reverse the trend.

Ten years ago, when I decided to come back to Asia to start my writing school, I chose Hong Kong for a reason: the freedom of speech, stellar work ethic, can-do spirit, business efficiency, safe streets, and a clean and straightforward legal system. I'm glad I chose Hong Kong and I would do the same again today. The difference is, though, that, today, some of these core values are being eroded, while pressing concerns, like pollution, lack of adequate housing and access to quality education, are on the rise.

The crisis in confidence when it comes to our schools is a worrying trend. Every parent, whether their child is in an international or local school, is concerned that their child is not learning the skills that will prepare him or her for higher education or workplace success.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit's "Learning Curve 2014", a report released last week by education services company Pearson, these skills are no longer just the three Rs - reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also skills like communication, leadership, emotional intelligence, teamwork, entrepreneurship, global citizenship and problem solving.

On the surface, it may look like we're doing well because Hong Kong consistently dominates global tests. But that's largely the result of our exam-obsessed culture. Many of my students say they rarely get the chance to develop real leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking skills in school, let alone global citizenship and entrepreneurship.

We can't just run away from our problems. Putting up with our schools for primary education and then sending children off to boarding school, as many are now doing, is not a solution for everyone.

If we have real problems and concerns about our education system - whether it's a lack of quality teachers, skyrocketing fees, a curriculum we don't agree with, or expansion plans that don't make sense - it's our duty as parents to take it up with the schools.

Similarly, we need to look seriously at our workplace. Skills like teamwork, leadership and creativity that inspire kids in school also inspire employees. An annual survey by consultancy firm ECA International shows that, for the first time, it's cheaper for multinational firms to send expat staff here than to the mainland. Let's capitalise on that and make Hong Kong an innovative, interesting and stimulating place to work. The US greatly benefits from having access to a wide pool of immigrant talent. There's no reason why we can't follow suit.

I love Hong Kong and will continue to serve it, defend it and promote it until I am old and grey. I still believe the city has everything it takes to lead Asia. But Hong Kong won't have a fighting chance if its people don't keep fighting for it.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School. kelly@kellyyang.edu.hk


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This article is now closed to comments

Marcus T Anthony
A good first step would be to remove nationalism from the issue. It simply muddies the waters and distracts attention away from genuine issues by creating imaginary external causes and foes.
Due to the rapidly changing nature of modern society, education systems worldwide are under pressure to change quickly. It's not something exclusive to Hong Kong. Therefore it is completely unnecessary to turn this into an us-vs-them drama.
There are so many holes in this piece of writing I do not even know where to start.
1. "I chose Hong Kong for a reason...that, today, some of these core values are being eroded, while pressing concerns...are on the rise" - it may be difficult to notice from an ivory tower, but most countries are still trying to recover from the global financial crisis. I personally find balancing the laundry list of social needs in a complex, post-crisis world no easy task. I would expect a piece that namedrops a string of cliche social issues could at least provide some insight on solutions?
2. "whether it's a lack of quality teachers, skyrocketing fees...take it up with the schools" - I honestly hope the writer has worked in a school, in which case practical suggestions from a school's perspective would be appreciated. While I do not think our schools are perfect, I believe it is more a systemic issue than the case that our schools welcome these problems. Personally, I would suggest starting from the policy angle and encourage suggestions as opposed to complaints. I also assume the writer's position (if it can be called that) encourages parents to voice their opinions of the "writing school", be the problem lack of quality teachers or skyrocketing fees...
3. "let's...make HK...stimulating place to work" - I cannot agree more. An example of the writer's effort toward this end, please?
4. I tried to read this objectively, but it seems nothing more than a marketing piece.
"Putting up with our schools for primary education and then sending children off to boarding school, as many are now doing, is not a solution for everyone."
Not for everyone, but for Mrs. Yang who studied in California and Massachusetts.
SCMP, please omit such articles in the future and let people speak who have something to say.
Marcus T Anthony
Yes, it's a noble goal. Everyone one knows what the essential problems are. Most people want to create a better system - but first I have to get my kid into the best school; first I have to make sure my students get high exam results; or we can tinker with the system after I finish studying for my Masters - and so on.
If I may bring up a salient point. Several years ago I applied for a position at Kelly Yang's school. The add stated that the applicants must have a degree from a prestigious university. Apparently my PhD from an Australian university and multiple academic credits was not good enough. I never got a response.
My point is that even Miss Yang's organisation plays the game she is criticising, at least in respect to playing the "prestige" game. So here we meet a difficult impasse.
The article here identifies some admirable aims, as identified by the Learning Curve 2014 report. It also expresses a strong intention to move forward in such a direction. What it doesn't identify are any practical steps to get there.
It does not identify any practical steps, because it is pure "Klugscheisserei"
Dear Mrs. Yang. Congratulations! Well said!
And thank you very much for making your very own writing school affordable for everybody in Hong Kong!
I believe that you accept everybody form every background and those who have a low income will be charged very low school fees only. I believe that languages are no problem in your school for your teachers and your students with global citizenship. And for sure you are not asking your students to pay "application charges" and you do not ask them to present their "portfolio" in interviews. For sure you have enough places for everybody in your school. Thank you Mrs. Yang for being such a good example to all of us the the education system in Hong Kong!
Is Kelly Yang's cram school even accredited?
HK "dominates" global tests? Kelly. I think you need a good reality check before you implore others to improve HK.
That's exactly the problem. I thought the goal of education is to educate, not the vanity of "international" score winners. What about the rest?
Please educate HK's local haters and doubters
and tell us why you "love" hk
No cliche please




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