Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa says Hong Kong's education system is 'not forward-looking enough' and students agree

City’s first ever chief executive says youngsters need to better understand the mainland, and the economic opportunity it holds

Heidi Yeung |

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Tung Chee-hwa feels the Hong Kong education system can be doing more for its students.

Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa has said Hong Kong’s education system is not “forward-looking enough” to equip young people for a “rapidly changing world and a rapidly developing China”.

Speaking at the South China Morning Post’s Celebrating Hong Kong’s Coming of Age conference on Monday, Tung – chief executive from 1997 to 2005 – said that aside from the city’s housing shortage, education was another of its key challenges.

“In a world where technology develops very quickly and deeply, influencing all aspects of our lives, we need to teach our next generation the basic knowledge in computing science, physics… or whatever career they want to pursue in life,” he said. “So far our provision has not been adequate.”

Sebastian Wong, 18, of Po Leung Kuk Vicwood K.T. Chong Sixth Form College agrees.

"There's an urgent need to shift the focus on to education," he says. "Hong Kong has always been highly dependent on business, and considering the ever-changing society, the education system needs to be changed in order to promote STEM education, which is clearly the future." 

And it's not only those currently in secondary school who feels this way. Joy Pamnani, 18, a journalism student at The University of Hong Kong, and Young Post's 2014 Junior Reporter of the Year agrees.

"Education is technically an investment," she says. "We need skills and critical thinking more than knowledge in some areas. The current system is all about memorisation and exam skills, which doesn't keep us competitive on the world stage."

Ruby Leung, 20, of City University of Hong Kong also sees the effect of our education system has on students once they enter university.

"It seems that studying computer science at university is not a popular option in Hong Kong, even though it is very profitable," observes Leung, Young Post's 2013 Junior Reporter of the Year. "Schools should offer advanced classes in computer science, which can prepare prospective students to pursue (similar subjects) at university. It seems that Hong Kong is seriously lacking in the STEM industry."

Beyond his notes on the local education system, Tung also touched upon the need for the city's young people to have a better understanding of the past.

“Our young people need to understand more deeply about Chinese culture as well as Chinese history, particularly what has happened over the last 150 years and the efforts of creating a new nation,” he said.

Tung also said he was confident Leung’s successor Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who pledged to spend an extra HK$5 billion on education per year after she takes office on July 1, would “do wonderful things for Hong Kong”.

Further, the former chief executive said since Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule, the implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle, under which the city enjoys more political freedom than there is on the mainland, has been a success.

Tung said while some people worry about the city’s political divisions, conflicts in the Legislative Council and the lack of progress on political reform, he was optimistic about Hong Kong and its people want economic and social progress.

“An overwhelming majority is also in favour of ‘one country, two systems’. Those who advocate independence … have little support,” he said, in a reference to a radical movement in Hong Kong that advocates separating the city from mainland China.

Young Post cadet, Ernest Leung, 17 of La Salle College backs this an extent.

"It is true that many of us don't wish for independence, but that does not mean that 'One Country Two System' is a success," Ernest says. "There have been multiple instances in which Chinese officials spoke openly against the separation of powers, and the public is afraid of 'mainlandisation' and the merging of the two systems. Moreover, although Hong Kong remains 'Asia’s world city', it is currently facing unprecedented competitions from nearby cities such as Shenzhen and Shanghai."