Hong Kong needs a tech upgrade to diversify its ailing economy
Winnie Tang says the government should use the upcoming policy address and budget to turn Hong Kong into a smarter city, boost IT education and create more favourable conditions for entrepreneurs, for starters
The public consultation on retirement protection has attracted overwhelming social attention. A reliable and balanced retirement scheme is important to our society, but equally crucial is the government’s technology drive for a better economy. In this way, Hong Kong will be better equipped to face a host of challenges. As an advocate of Hong Kong’s information technology development, I have some suggestions for the upcoming policy address and budget.
First, Hong Kong needs to be a smarter city. Singapore and some mainland cities picked up top awards in the region recently with their outstanding smart city initiatives. Together with Seoul, these emerging smart cities have demonstrated how new developments can lift residents’ quality of life. The government should therefore extend the pilot Kowloon East smart city scheme to cover the whole of Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the government should seek to integrate all related information, on city planning, transport, medical, commerce and logistics, to better co-ordinate and manage the planning, construction and operation of Hong Kong as a smart city.
Second, we can create a greener world through the internet. While nations agreed at the UN climate summit in Paris to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the success of the accord relies on the co-operation of governments and communities. At the same time, Paris is ambitiously increasing the greening of the city following an online poll in 2015; one million square metres of roof and building facade greening will be installed by 2020. The “gardens on the walls” initiative aims to achieve a better climate, cleaner air and biological diversity. We should adopt something similar.
Third, we can create a better future for our ageing population through e-health initiatives. Savings of 10 to 20 per cent can be achieved on total health care costs through e-health such as telemedicine (diagnosis and treatment from a distance) and the use of mobile devices (providing health care information to practitioners and real-time monitoring of patients’ vitals). This would help ease the increasing financial burden.
Fourth, IT education needs to be updated. Although 80 per cent of Hong Kong households have internet access, the education sector has not been keeping pace with the speed of change in the digital age – the syllabus that sets out computer literacy requirements for junior secondary school students was last updated 14 years ago.
According to US government statistics, by 2020, there will be 1.4 million computing jobs and only 400,000 students with relevant training to fill those roles. Moreover, computer science skills, such as coding, have become essential in many different fields. This is a global phenomenon.
Britain now includes coding as a compulsory subject for children as young as five while Finland will also make it a mandatory, cross-curricular activity from the first year of school, starting from this autumn. Australia and Singapore, too, are contemplating when and how to start compulsory education in coding.
To avoid being left behind, the government should incorporate computer programming as a compulsory subject in primary education to equip students for the future digital world, and stimulate them in logical thinking and problem solving.
Finally, in almost every corner of Hong Kong, you’ll find people starting businesses. The government should spare no effort to create favourable conditions to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
It should maximise the use of existing public resources, seek to attract more overseas business incubators, accelerators and venture capital, while doing more to enable office space sharing.
Regulations need to be revised on raising contributions through the internet, such as by using equity crowdfunding and mobile payments. Regulatory reform would benefit not only start-ups but also investors, with the result of boosting the market.
Innovation and technology can diversify Hong Kong’s economy and provide greater employment opportunities for the community.
Dr Winnie Tang is co-founder and chairman of the Steering Committee of the Smart City Consortium