Hong Kong’s education system ‘not forward-looking enough’ for the modern world, says former leader Tung Chee-hwa

City’s first ever chief executive says youngsters need to better understand the mainland, and the economic opportunity it holds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 2:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 9:33pm

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has said Hong Kong’s education system is not “forward-looking enough” to equip young people for a “rapidly changing world and a rapidly developing China”.

Speaking at the Post’s Celebrating Hong Kong’s Coming of Age conference on Monday, Tung – chief executive from 1997 to 2005 – said that aside from the city’s housing shortage, education was another of its key challenges.

“In a world where technology develops very quickly and deeply, influencing all aspects of our lives, we need to teach our next generation the basic knowledge in computing science, physics… or whatever career they want to pursue in life,” he said. “So far our provision has not been adequate.”

Tung, a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body, also said Hong Kong “needs to have a sense of urgency in awakening our next generation to the enormous market right here at our doorstep”.

“Our young people need to understand more deeply about Chinese culture as well as Chinese history, particularly what has happened over the last 150 years and the efforts of creating a new nation,” he said.

“Unfortunately, our education policy has not been forward-looking enough. We have to recognise that expenditure in education is an investment for our future.”

In recent years, Hong Kong’s young people has been increasingly sceptical over Beijing’s “one country, two systems” framework, and some has supported the calls for the city’s independence as an option when the central government’s promises under the framework is due to expire in 2047.

However, Tung said: “An overwhelming majority in Hong Kong is in favour of ‘one country, two systems’. Those who advocate independence… have little support.”

Tung’s remarks came a week after Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, had also urged young people to guard against separatist ideas and learn the correct relationship between the city and the country.

Last month, the central government’s third-highest ranking official, National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang, had also called for the strengthening of national education for young people in Hong Kong.

Instead of pointing the finger at the outgoing chief executive, Tung thanked Leung Chun-ying for doing much on education and housing in the last five years.

Tung also said he was confident Leung’s successor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who pledged to spend an extra HK$5 billion on education per year after she takes office on July 1, would “do wonderful things for Hong Kong”.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said Tung appeared to have contradicted himself when he praised Leung after criticising the administration for underspending in education.

“Leung has hardly done anything good on education in the last five years. He appointed an incapable minister, Eddie Ng Hak-kim, and they failed to recognise and tackle the difficulties faced by students and teachers,” Ip said. “Leung is also to blame as the proportion of public spending on education has reached a new low in recent years.”

Ip also disagreed with Tung that students should pay particular attention to modern Chinese history.

“Students should be taught to understand Chinese history as a whole,” he said.

Elegantia College principal and Education Convergence chairman Ho Hon-kuen also said Leung has achieved relatively little in terms of education as his administration spent much effort on social welfare and housing.

Ann Chiang Lai-wan, chairwoman of the Legislative Council’s panel on education, said while she agrees that Lam should improve the city’s education system, she appreciates Leung for increasing subsidies for student exchange programmes and ethnic minorities’ needs.