Press Release



Speech by Director of Education at International Forum on Education Reforms


The following is the full text of the speech by Director of Education, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung at the Opening Ceremony of The International Forum on Education Reforms in the Asia-Pacific Region at the Hong Kong Institute of Education today (February 14) (English only):

Professor Hayhoe, Professor Cheng, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be here with so many people who share the commitment to improving education. On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, let me extend my warmest welcome to all our visitors who come from afar. I would also like to thank Professor Hayhoe, Professor Cheng and staff of the Hong Kong Institute of Education for organizing this Forum. It provides an excellent occasion for educational experts from the Asia-Pacific Region to generously share their innovative initiatives, field experiences and ideas on education reform efforts. Most of all, I wish to thank the many local professionals and friends present today for being part of this big turnout.

The 21st century is a time of new challenges. The dawning of the knowledge-based economy is a major challenge. What matters most in this new economy is whether we have the ability to innovate and to deploy knowledge effectively; and how fast we can adapt to constant changes. Education which enhances individual students' capacity to learn and to apply that learning provides the profound answers to the new challenges. Hence, education authorities in many nations have embarked on education reforms. There is much talk about 'world-class' education around the world. We see, through information technology and networking, global processes of transference of educational policies and experiences for adaptation to local contexts. Hong Kong, as part of the global village, naturally gets involved in the global dynamics.

Education has been at the top of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government's agenda. Immediately after its establishment, the Chief Executive tasked the Education Commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the education system with a view to drawing up a blueprint for the 21st Century. Last October, the Chief Executive announced the acceptance of all the reform recommendations put forward by the Commission after more than two years' hard work and wide consultation. We are now entering into an exciting time of change.

Let me now share with you the Hong Kong case of reform in school education.

Our case for change


To maintain Hong Kong as an international city in the face of the knowledge-based and globalising economy, we must nurture talents who can harness changes with times. Our competitiveness depends on whether our citizens are able to harness new technologies, develop new industries and business strategies and whether they are nimble and creative. Education is, by common consent, the bedrock of our economic prosperity.

As a premier cosmopolitan city in the Asia-Pacific Region and as a unique city in China, Hong Kong should strive to be an open and modern city with cultural diversity and a global outlook. Our citizens should be good learners, articulate, creative, adaptable, and have a strong sense of commitment. Education enables our citizens to acquire the qualities and confidence to build a fair, harmonious, healthy and cohesive community.

There is a more general and yet more real concern we all share. With the rapid development of science and technology in the new millenium, the global society will soon face complex problems that mankind never before faces. There are the new environmental challenges. The immense advances in genetic science are associated with a series of complicated ethical dilemmas. Global, local and individual efforts are required to find new solutions. We believe that education ensures that our young generation have the capability to understand these complex problems, to be highly knowledgeable, to be able to work in collaboration, and to be capable of exercising moral judgement and taking a global perspective.

Our challenges


Our education has seen much success in the past and our schools have nurtured many local talents. The performance of our students studying abroad is on a par with their counterparts, both local and foreign. We have done well in international comparisons of standards such as the International Mathematical Olympiad and the Odessy of Mind Programme.

Besides, we have three strengths to build on :

* First, our parents care very much about their children's education;

* Second, our culture emphasizes hard work; and

* Third, there are quite a number of progressive schools and committed teachers, who have contributed to a wealth of school-based initiatives and good practices.

However, we have not lost sight of the criticisms that arise in tandem with changes taking place in our society. There is increasing concern about our education system falling short of the community's aspirations. There have been a number of criticisms :

* First, our education system caters to a selected few, whilst disadvantages the majority and creates a large number of losers;

* Second, our kindergartens are teaching a curriculum too advanced for the children's age, while the curricula for primary and secondary education are not broad enough;

* Third, there are too many examinations, tests and much homework;

* Fourth, the structure of our 9-year basic education is fraught with hurdles and dead-ends; and

* Finally, learning emphasizes rote memorization, and it is textbook-bound and examination-oriented.

To take our school education forward into the 21st Century with its focus on life-long learning, our challenges are four-fold:

* First, how can we encourage our young people to cultivate the aptitude and skills for lifelong learning?

* Second, how can we empower our young people to become what I call a '3 C' learner, i.e. a curious, critical and creative learner?

* Third, how can we enable every child to develop his potential to the full?

* Finally, how can our schools become an enjoyable place for students in quest of knowledge?

Our answer to these questions focuses on learning effectiveness which, we believe, should be student focused. Hence, the goals of our education reform are 'life-long learning' and 'all-round development'. Our vision is that students would be motivated to learn, effective in communication, creative and committed to their families, society, country and global community.

The reform agenda


Against this backdrop, our reform focuses on the academic structure, curricula and assessment mechanism and emphasizes capacity-building for change. As each measure will have far-reaching impact on our future, we are proceeding in a gradual and prudent manner. Let me briefly outline the main thrust of the change.

-- Enhancing learning opportunities

We believe that all children should have access to the most appropriate learning opportunity to develop their potentials. We must not leave any student behind. Not a single one. This is also the mission of United States President Bush in his education plan. Our students should be allowed to experience an uninterrupted and comprehensive learning life, especially at the basic education stage, so that they will have ample opportunities to engage in various learning activities conducive to all-round development. Hence, our first step in education reform is to remove unnecessary drillings and the pressure of high-stake public assessments in Primary 1 and Secondary 1 admission mechanisms so that our students will progress without these obstacles.

Hong Kong now provides free and compulsory education up to Secondary 3 for its children. Beyond Secondary 3, we provide heavily subsidized Secondary 4 places for some 85 per cent of the 15-year-old cohort and vocational training places for another 10 per cent of the age group. To raise the general educational level of the population and to encourage life-long learning, starting from 2002-03 school year, all our Secondary 3 students who have the ability and wish to continue their study will be given the opportunities to receive heavily subsidised Secondary 4 education or vocational training.

I must add that the HKSAR Government is, at the same time, committed to increasing gradually the provision of tertiary places in the coming ten years, with the aim of providing tertiary education for 60% of the young people in the appropriate age group.

-- Reforming the curricula and teaching pedagogy

The key to learning effectiveness lies in the reform of curricula and teaching pedagogy. The Curriculum Development Council will end its three-month public consultation tomorrow on the specific arrangements of curricula reform under the theme 'Learning to Learn'. We believe that all students can learn and that they have multiple intelligences. Schools and teachers are encouraged to refer to the curriculum framework and develop their own school-based teaching and learning programmes according to the needs of their students.

At the pre-primary education stage, one of our basic aims is to develop children's habit and interest in reading. To this end, we specifically provide kindergartens and child care centres with a grant of some HK$20 000 (US$2 600) each for the purchase of library books.

In basic education, the curricula will be broadened and grouped into eight key learning areas to encourage all-round development. We encourage students to learn from daily life and extend their learning experiences beyond the confines of the classroom. Greater emphasis would be put on the development of the essential generic skills such as critical and creative thinking, collaborative and communicative skills, problem-solving and so on, which are essential for students to learn on their own.

In senior secondary education, the curricula would be diversified to provide students with a variety of options for some specialization to cater for their different aptitudes and learning needs.

The above changes will certainly demand a lot more from our teachers than merely 'teaching by the books'. Diversified learning and teaching strategies need to be used to suit the variety of ways in which our students learn. This demands a change in the teaching culture.

-- Improving assessment mechanisms

Assessment should aim to reflect the effectiveness of teaching for the purpose of enhancing the effectiveness of learning. We encourage teachers to use formative assessment through a diversity of assessment tools to provide effective feedback that motivates and improves learning. Assessment practices which inhibit or narrow learning opportunities and demoralize students should be reduced. Again, our challenge is to cultivate a change in the assessment culture in schools.

We need to ensure that all students reach the basic standards in the key learning areas. We will introduce the web-based Basic Competency Assessment (BCA) in Chinese, English and Mathematics by phases as from 2001/02. The Student Assessment facilitates schools to provide timely and appropriate assistance for individual students. The System Assessment at the key stages is to monitor whether students in all schools have reached the basic standards.

Public examinations at the end of Secondary 5 and the Matriculation Course have the high-stake functions of certification and selection. To bring about more positive effects on learning and teaching, the Hong Kong Examinations Authority will reform the examinations' content and marking system so as to make more room for creative and independent thinking.

-- Strengthening the teaching force

Quality teaching is the key to learning effectiveness, especially when schools now have students of increasingly diverse abilities. In the education reform, our hopes rest on our teachers. It is important that we develop an outstanding and professional teaching force. We expect teachers to be reflective practitioners and lifelong learners themselves so as to keep abreast of the times and continue to grow and excel. Our focus is on capacity-building.

The first step we have taken is to create more room for teachers to adapt to their new roles. The Government has provided an additional grant to schools and allows them the flexibility to put their resources to the best use for the purpose. The Education Department also offers school-based support to teachers to assist in working out the improvement plans.

We recognize that teachers' continuous professional development is crucial to the change in the culture of learning and teaching. Teachers are encouraged to pursue continuing education, share experiences and collaborate in experimenting new teaching methods. To this end, we collaborate with training providers to formulate ways to strengthen in-service training, promote greater collaboration between tertiary institutions and schools in forging closer partnership for professional development and school improvement. We also promote the building up of district teacher networks and education intranet to disseminate good practices. We believe that such collaborative learning networks would bring about powerful learning and capacity-building effects.

We are working hand in hand with educators to set up a professional ladder for teachers and to develop a culture of life-long learning and professional self-improvement. We have set IT competence targets and language benchmarks for teachers.

Commitment and Support


Nurturing talents is an important social investment. The Government is firmly committed to investing in quality education. Total expenditure in education in the 2000-01 financial year is estimated at HK$54.4 billion (US$ 7 billion). This represents about 4.25 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product or 22.3 per cent of the total government expenditure.

To realise the initiatives which I have just outlined, the Government will need to spend more. We have earmarked HK$800 million (US$ 102 million) this financial year to implement the priority reform measures. Additional funding is helpful but, on its own, is not enough. Support of the entire community is crucial and learning networks play a significant role. We are working with tertiary institutions, teacher training institutions and professionals to provide professional support to school heads and teachers. The business sector is encouraged to provide financial, technical and other support such as opportunities for students to be exposed to job-related experiences. Youth service groups, uniformed groups, culture and art organizations, sports groups and professional organization are mobilized to offer human and financial support to provide students with life-wide learning experiences.

After all, we must not forget that parents have an important role to play in their children's education. Gordon Dryden in his book The Learning Revolution says that the home will be the primary source of education and learning in the new millenium. We have specifically earmarked HK$50 million (or US$6.4 million) on parent education with the aim of fostering stronger home-school co-operation.

Global Networking


The theme of this Forum denotes the importance of 'triplization' process (i.e. globalization, localization and individualization) in educational change. The advanced communication technology and global networking bring about interaction between education practitioners; and facilitates the adaptation of good practices from other nations to suit local situations and to meet individual needs of students, teachers and schools. For example, in the case of Hong Kong, we have made reference to Australia and Singapore in the development of school-based management and school improvement. We have developed our Quality Assurance Inspection having regard to the experiences of UK and Australia.



We all know that education reform is a mammoth task which takes years to accomplish. In Hong Kong, we have just moved out a small step and there is a mountain to climb. I know, within Asia-Pacific Region and globally, there are wide variations in the way education reforms are carried out but there are common lessons for us to learn. You came on different flights, but we are in the same boat. Together, I have confidence that we can make a significant difference in a relatively shorter time.

I wish you all a most stimulating and successful conference. Thank you.

End/Wednesday, February 14, 2001