Hong Kong must regain its edge by getting creative with its education system

Paul Yip says Hong Kong's unseating as the most competitive Chinese city must spur us to correct what is wrong in our education system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 12:29pm

The latest report on the competitiveness of Chinese cities, released by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, ranked Shenzhen at the top, ahead of Hong Kong, which had been ranked first since 2005. The finding is unsettling but not unexpected. The study measures competitiveness based on multiple areas, including business environment, efficiency and sustainability.

It recognises Hong Kong's edge in being a knowledge-based economy, and for its environmental and cultural development. However, the city suffers from inertia because it is relying too much on the core industries of finance, shipping, tourism and professional services. There is not enough effort put into innovation and technology and other small but emerging businesses, such as creative industries.

We have been raising these issues for years but have yet to see anything put in place.

Urgent improvement is needed in several areas. First, Hong Kong suffers from inefficient governance. We not only have the disruption caused by filibustering in the Legislative Council but also an ineffective administration. For example, the government has done little to alleviate the shortage of public housing by reducing abusers of the scheme and improving its allocation system. Each year, the Audit Commission's reports, about the inefficiencies of government departments, always raise eyebrows.

Secondly, a shortage of land has become a stumbling block for improvement of living and working conditions. Our emerging industries are not short of ideas but they do lack space for expansion and experimentation. Simply, our community development has been hampered by high rental costs for commercial and residential use. Somehow, we have to agree on a trade-off and find viable alternatives. Certainly, existing land should be used more efficiently.

Thirdly, Hong Kong must enhance its human capital to remain competitive and sustainable. According to the latest findings of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on the science and maths abilities of 15-year-olds in 76 economies, Hong Kong ranked second after Singapore.

Our students' maths and science ability is clearly ahead of those of their Western counterparts. However, our advantage seems to diminish once they enter university and postgraduate education. Have we got our training and learning right? Perhaps we spend too much time on drills and practice, even though they are important in building solid foundations. At the same time, we may be destroying young people's enthusiasm and curiosity. We certainly do not need more businesses providing drilling for kindergarten entrance exams.

Furthermore, what we teach in school won't sustain our young people for long in an ever-changing world; what counts is their ability to adapt.

Unless we can address these issues, it won't come as a surprise if our rankings continue to go down. Hong Kong needs to continually strive to improve to make a proper contribution to China and the rest of the world. It is time for all stakeholders to get their acts together.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong