Letters to the Editor, April 5, 2017

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 5:26pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 5:26pm

HKU’s stance on science is a reality check

There has been something of a sensation over the University of Hong Kong closing some of its science major programmes (“Concerns raised over HKU’s ditching of maths-physics and astronomy degrees,” March 19).

I graduated from HKU and once worked there. In an email sent to alumni by HKU on March 23, it was revealed that the mathematics/physics and astronomy major courses would be closed. The university claims the decisions were made based on demand, but that may not be the only reason.

The decision, to a large extent, is managerial and political. While it is difficult to refute the “demand” reasoning, I’d like to present some little-known facts to outsiders.

First, before 2009, HKU had sacked all but one technical ­officer in the department of physics. Second, half of the ­supporting staff in the School of Biological Sciences, together with a ­number of associated professors, was laid off in 2010 (around 60 people).

Funding for many practical classes and summer laboratory training for undergraduates has long been shrinking; HKU’s ­attitude towards ­science in ­recent ­decades is clear.

Another big reason cited for shutting these courses is poor prospects for graduates.

Due to the investment ­culture among local capitalists, and the proliferation of vocational training courses, anyone graduating with a pure science degree (even an MPhil and PhD) may well be marginalised by the local market.

With poor employment prospects tainting the university’s record, the management has decided to excise these ­programmes like a cancer.

The sad story does not end there. Think about the researchers and scholars being dumped into the private market, only to be met with a less-than-rosy job situation. Really, we are a ­minority, betrayed by both the government and labour unions.

Maverick Tse, Tuen Mun

Best man for the job can get things done

It would have been helpful if your correspondent R. L. Wilson (“Government could be more ­effective with recruits from overseas”, March 27) had offered specific examples of posts in government where overseas ­officers would have made ­policymaking and their execution more effective. He must have had a few in mind.

To have taken such a blanket shot was not only unconvincing but also unfair to local officials.

If Mr Wilson is not too young to know, traffic came to a virtual crawl (hours to get from Kwun Tong to Mong Kok or North Point to Central, or even to cross the harbour) before the decision was taken to build the metro and the first cross-harbour tunnel.

A financial secretary inserted into the government from one of the private “hongs” in the early 1980s immediately shelved the replacement airport project ­because his hong’s airline didn’t think we needed one.

It took the 1989 Tiananmen incident to shake the government into reviving the replacement airport project, which produced the Chek Lap Kok ­airport in the nick of time.

Not every overseas practice is worth copying. We’re all for “best man for the job”.

Peter Lok, Heng Fa Chuen

Spare primary students the pain of tests

Students in Hong Kong are busy round the clock, overburdened with homework, tests and school exams. Moreover, most parents tend to enrol them in after-school tutorial or hobby classes, as they want their children to gain a competitive edge.

Unfortunately, competition is a fact of life that cannot be changed. But the city’s Education Bureau could help to ease the workload and stress of young students, especially those still in primary school.

This it can do by rethinking its stance on the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) or any replacement test used to rank schools.

Students of Primary Three and Six have to take such tests, and are put through intensive drilling, starting from Primary One or Two even. This means students rarely enjoy learning.

TSA practice papers are not easy to tackle. They require long hours of revision and past paper training. But excellent results in the TSA would mean nothing for the personal academic results of students.

It is quite meaningless then for them to undergo such intensive drilling for such a long time.

Is it really necessary for ­Primary Three students, who are still just children, to be subjected to such a gruelling regime?

Jason Luk, Tseung Kwan O

Children who try and fail are stronger adults

We observe many different styles of parenting in Hong Kong. For example, there are the helicopter parents and the very strict “tiger” parents.

So many parents in Hong Kong are overprotective, always afraid that their children will be harmed by others. But such helicopter parenting often leaves children unable to solve problems independently, and stunts their capacity for critical or independent thought.

Parents want the best for their children. But overprotected youngsters will never have the chance to confront and overcome a challenge. When everything always goes smoothly for them, they become ill-equipped to face adversity. They may lose confidence and even develop psychological problems when faced with the realities of life.

I believe parents should let children try and fail, so they ­become resilient and mature adults, instead of being overly protective.

Simon Chung, Kwun Tong

Reuse of plastic bottles brings its own perils

Though the idea presented by Jason Ali (“Reusing bottles is better than recycling them”, Mar 4) is good, it may not be very practical in the long term.

Research has shown that many plastic bottles contain trace amounts of Bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic chemical that may interfere with the body’s natural hormonal messaging system. The same studies found that repeated reuse of plastic bottles increases the chances that chemicals will leach out and cause other health problems that develop over time.

Studies by the Environment California Research & Policy Centre link BPA to breast and uterine cancer, increased risk of miscarriage, and a fall in testosterone levels.

Though you may think that the amount of BPA that can leak into the water in your reused bottle is likely to be very small, think again – as we cannot underestimate the cumulative effect of small doses. My opinion is it is better not to reuse plastic water bottles more than once.

Eunice Li Dan-yue, Shanghai