CITY BEAT TAMMY TAM
City Beat
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Hong Kong’s education system needs more heart and ‘soulware’

Concept, which involves nurturing mindset of students, is key to helping young people prepare for future

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 1:42pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 June, 2017, 9:59pm

“Pity that our best talents are not going to the teaching field,” a panellist lamented last week at a conference held by the South China Morning Post to mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China and the “one country, two systems” policy. Other speakers, including the city’s first post-1997 leader, Tung Chee-hwa, also highlighted the need for a smarter education policy.

So what has gone wrong with education in the city that has made our opinion leaders, parents, and many youngsters so unhappy?

The panellist concerned about the shortage of talent was right and wrong. While it’s true that the cream of the crop is still likely to seek traditionally respectable options like medical or law school, the gauge of good education is more than just turning top students into teachers or professors.

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The story of City University serves as a good reference. The institution, with a history of just over 30 years and which may not necessarily be the first choice for some students, has squeezed itself into the top 50, listing 49th in the QS World University Rankings.

In another achievement, City University is taking the lead in Hong Kong and ranks 54th worldwide in terms of patents published by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association in the US.

Professor Way Kuo, president of the university and an internationally renowned scholar on nuclear energy, was modest enough to suggest that this could be a result of different universities focusing on different areas. Fair enough, but he did share one secret: the key is “soulware” – which he defines as “a type of culture, mentality, behaviour and thinking pattern”. Traditional knowledge-based teaching aside, nurturing the mindset of the students is equally or even more important.

Many may not be aware of the fact that more than half of CityU’s students come from lower-income “public housing” families. That, according to Kuo, is one reason prompting him to establish regular exchange programmes with overseas universities to allow students to study abroad for one semester during their four years of campus life.

The university’s management team believes such an eye- and mind-opening journey will be invaluable to students’ future career development.

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“It’s better to travel 10,000 miles than to read 10,000 books” – these words of traditional Chinese wisdom were quoted by former US first lady Michelle Obama in her speech to students at Peking University when she visited China in 2014. But soulware education is not easy, as summed up by another Chinese saying: “It takes 10 years to grow trees but 100 years to rear a generation of people.”

Many may view education in Hong Kong as quite problematic. On the one hand, young people are becoming more politically sceptical and critical of governments on both sides of the border; on the other, employers are complaining that local students are not as competitive and hardworking as their mainland counterparts, or the previous generation, for that matter.

Incoming chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has pledged to make education her top priority after taking up office. However, there are already arguments over where and how to spend the money, on primary and high schooling or university and high-tech research, and so on.

Understandably, it will never be enough when it comes to funding. But money aside, how to equip our next generation with the knowledge and mindset required to prepare for a “rapidly changing world and rapidly developing China”, as Tung pointed out at the conference, is key.

The importance of soulware-building is clear: the mindset will decide one’s future, and also that of Hong Kong.