My Take

What will it take to get our young people enthused about science?

The government has done little and even our top university has cancelled courses. But Hong Kong must promote science and maths learning, to prepare our young for the jobs of the future

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 1:56am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 March, 2017, 1:56am

Blessed are the mathematically inclined, for they shall inherit the world.

If nothing else, maths whizzes almost destroyed the world economy during the financial crisis of 2007-09. I am reading a book called Weapons of Math Destruction, describing how they did it. Such awesome superpowers, wiping out trillions and destroying economies with incomprehensible equations and computer modelling! All these Wall Street and central bank quants studied maths, physics, engineering and computing.

Why Hong Kong children have fallen behind in science race, and the volunteers pushing them to catch up

Why aren’t more young people studying STEM (science, technology engineering, maths)? This seems to be a worldwide trend in developed countries, as well as in Hong Kong.

Survey after survey has shown more and more of our children are failing to develop scientific interests. Hong Kong pupils used to have stellar scores in PISA – the Programme for International Student Assessment which ranks 15-year-olds from dozens of countries and territories in mathematics, science and reading. But last year, we dropped to ninth place in science, behind Vietnam and Macau.

What is really sad is that our oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning – the University of Hong Kong – has decided to follow that declining trend rather than reverse it. Its science bosses have cancelled an undergraduate course in astronomy, the only one of its kind in Hong Kong, and a joint degree in maths and physics.

HKU cited a lack of student interest in the subjects. You would think it’s the job of educators to lead and educate young people, not to follow them. But then, that’s pretty much what universities around the world do these days: act like service providers for students who are customers. And the customer is always right.

Calls to trim core secondary school subjects to make room for science electives

Nary a word from the Education Bureau or the rest of the government, which professes to make promotion of STEM a policy priority. It was left to Lam Chiu-ying, former head of the government observatory and graduate of the joint maths/physics programme, and astronomer Professor Sun Kwok, former dean of science at HKU, to protest against the decision. But it was too little, too late.

In this and the coming decades, most good jobs will require some maths and computing abilities. Maybe more role models would help in money-obsessed Hong Kong.

How about getting some quants to come in with their limos to talk about how contemporary finance is maths- and computer-driven? Certainly more appealing than a weatherman and an academic.