Making STEM fun for children is vital for Hong Kong’s future
Ken Chu says the Hong Kong economy needs a workforce trained in science and technology to compete in today’s digital world, and no push to promote STEM education in schools can succeed without children taking a genuine interest in these subjects
Hong Kong’s next budget looks set to be full of surprises amid the bright outlook for the city, but it should also be one that prepares us for future developments and grooms our next generation. One vital area in need of government investment is education, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education.
In today’s fast-evolving world increasingly dominated by algorithms, artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, every economy needs a workforce trained in innovation, science and technology. This is why many countries have reformed their education system to feature STEM education.
Recognising the importance of STEM and following a consultation with key stakeholders, the government released a report in 2016 on the promotion of STEM education, which sets out recommendations for primary and secondary schools.
Furthermore, the Education Bureau provides funding and other kinds of support to schools to promote STEM programmes. For example, it launched a STEM Education Centre last year as part of its Arts and Technology Education Centre, to strengthen support for technology education in schools.
Despite these efforts, Hong Kong is still being criticised for lagging behind in this aspect.
There are a number of reasons for this. Foremost is Hong Kong’s failure to give priority to STEM subjects in its school syllabus. Among the four subjects, only maths is mandatory throughout the six years of secondary school education, but engineering and technology-related subjects are not.
Furthermore, even after the introduction of the new senior secondary curriculum in 2009, science subjects remain electives for senior secondary students.
According to a study by the Legislative Council, the percentage of senior secondary students taking science-related subjects has dropped since 2009, and this should offer an insight into why it is critical to let children learn STEM subjects as early as possible so that they will not lose interest later in their lives.
In fact, if the world is to be governed by AI, technology, computers and robotics in the future, we must give our youth the knowledge and language required to command and manage these gadgets. It is logical to start teaching our young children the basics of coding, the language of programming, in primary school. After all, many of our toddlers today are well acquainted with smartphones or tablets. They are the new generation of this digital age.
Around the globe, a number of countries, including Estonia and Singapore, have already introduced coding programmes in primary schools.
In Hong Kong, we are failing to nurture an interest in STEM in our young children. Without that, the young won’t be motivated to learn maths, science or technology. Educators must understand that young children cannot be forced to learn by simply dangling a high-paying job in the future.
The government report offers many recommendations but a key element – the fun factor – seems to be missing. Our educators must creatively integrate fun with classroom learning. I urge our financial secretary to provide more funding to teachers who are willing to brush up on STEM, or learn how to help our young children apply STEM knowledge in classroom games or on practical issues.
We must also try to keep our young interested in STEM after school. A full-fledged STEM ecosystem that extends beyond the school environment is most desirable.
Thus, parents, too, need a “reboot” so they can provide STEM-related activities and games for their children. Most parents are not experts in this area. Our financial secretary can consider injecting more funds to the STEM Education Centre to teach parents how to make it fun for their children to learn STEM.
Dr Ken Chu is group chairman and CEO of the Mission Hills Group and a National Committee member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference