Amid social unrest and a pandemic, Hong Kong has depended on its fundamental strengths in adversity. One that has usually been reliable is the next generation’s international competitiveness in the core subjects of maths and science. News of a single disappointing assessment is no reason to panic, but neither should it be ignored. The Education Bureau is right to review the city’s performance in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study involving 6,000 local students. Our secondary school students have posted the city’s worst science results in a global study since 1995. In an assessment conducted every four years, the latest findings show that Primary Four and Form Two students dropped 10 and 11 places respectively, to 15th and 17th, in science. Primary Four pupils remained the world’s second best in their age group for maths, behind Singapore. The assessments were conducted from April to July last year, so a contributing factor may have been the distraction of social unrest that broke out in June 2019. It was also the first time classes were conducted online. Maths and science performance of Hong Kong pupils declines in global study There is more to education than maths and science. But the results should prompt honest reflection. Educators have not yet been able to pinpoint reasons behind any decline, such as whether it could be linked to shortened classroom time dedicated purely to science as a result of enhanced promotion of STEM education – the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. That raises questions whether the usually higher marks across the board have been the result of rote learning. The question now is not just whether high scores translate into career success or provide a basis for innovation and scientific development, but also whether education provides the next generation with a wider perspective for dealing with the social and economic issues of their times, such as the consequences of climate change. That said, if we are to have a significant role in the Greater Bay Area vision in information technology, innovation and science then it matters how the education system is grooming the next generation. In that respect the alert sounded by this study deserves to be taken on board along with other indicators, while being kept in proportion.