Press Release



Speech by Secretary for Education and Manpower at the Business Coalition on Education luncheon (English only)


Following is a speech by the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mrs Fanny Law, at the Business Coalition on Education luncheon (February 27)

Mr Shroff, Mr Dodwell, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured and pleased to address this distinguished gathering of business leaders. The turnout today is a clear sign of the importance the business community attaches to education; and rightly so. Indeed, nations around the world are alive to the fact that the quality of their workforce is the key to success in the knowledge-based global economy of the 21st century.

It is therefore not surprising for Prime Minister Tony Blair to declare that the three priorities of his government are "education, education and education". Likewise, President George Bush took off with education as a key focus of his administration, following closely in the footstep of his predecessor. The People's Republic of China also accords top priority to education as the basis for the country's national strength, and has moved forward in a significant way since the Party's decision in 1999 to promote quality education.

Since he took office, our Chief Executive, Mr C H Tung, has identified education as the top priority of the SAR Government, and commissioned a comprehensive review of the education system in Hong Kong. Following more than two years of soul-searching, the Education Commission mapped out a blueprint of education for Hong Kong, which was accepted by the Chief Executive and pronounced in his policy address last year.

The Education Reform

The education reform involves many jigsaw pieces which, at first sight, may appear puzzling to the casual observer. The fact of the matter is learning is a complex process. The effectiveness of learning and teaching hinges on a raft of intricately related factors pertaining to the student, teacher, school leadership, the Government, family and the community at large. This diagram (attached) illustrates the situation. To improve the effectiveness of teaching and learning, we must tackle every dimension of the learning process, and the stakeholders must act in concert, or their efforts would be nullified.

The ultimate objective of the education reform is to trigger students' intrinsic motivation to learn, so that they will enjoy learning and develop the skills and aptitude for lifelong learning. Intrinsic motivation is built on interest, encouragement and satisfaction; whereas extrinsic motivation arises out of pressure, reward, fear for failure or punishment. I am sorry to say that most of our students lack intrinsic motivation to learn and feel oppressed in an education system which is still largely examination-oriented, textbook-based and teacher-centred.

Our vision is to develop an education system which provides diversity and choice to suit individual preferences, and to build a professional teaching force which has the capacity to cater for individual differences and optimize the potential of each and every student. To realise this vision requires concurrent changes to the education system, the curriculum, the pedagogy and, most of all, the mindset of teachers and parents.

We often hear complaints that there are too many changes. The more pertinent question is whether the changes are relevant and necessary, and how we sequence the changes in an orderly manner. A change is relevant if it affects student learning and outcome, either directly or indirectly. It is necessary if the impact is positive and significant. And, we have worked out a clear timetable for implementing the many recommendations of the Education Commission.

However, changes to the system can only provide an enabling environment for more in-depth reform. To have any real impact on student success, changes must infiltrate the classroom and influence the way teaching and learning are carried out. This calls for an updated repertoire of skills among our teachers, and most of all, principals and teachers must see and accept the need for change.

The first reform measure which we introduced last year was to abolish the Academic Aptitude Test, a high-stake examination that determines which secondary school a primary student would be allocated. The purpose is to do away with excessive drilling of students for a test, originally conceived to be an aptitude test that does not require prior preparation. Following the abolition of the AAT, we observe that primary schools now have time for more diversified learning activities, such as project work and extra-curricular activities, and is paying more attention to English which was not previously included in the AAT. This is the first positive result of the education reform and is encouraging.

The government's role in the education reform is to set the direction and pace of change, provide teacher training, disseminate good practices, monitor progress and assure quality at the system level. Our top priorities are to upgrade early childhood and primary education, and to improve the language ability, in particular the English proficiency, of our students.

Since 1997, the Administration has adopted various measures to enhance the English proficiency of our students. For example, we introduced native English-speaking teachers and teaching assistants in schools, established language benchmarks for local teachers, and increased training places at universities for subject-trained English teachers. The Quality Education Fund and the Language Fund sponsored over 300 English language school-based projects which include the development of teaching materials, teacher support networks, self-learning packages, language laboratories, research studies on innovative teaching practices and various learning activities. We have started to disseminate the good practices that have emerged from these projects. Schools have responded positively and the trend is encouraging.

It is time to review and consolidate these efforts. With the assistance of the Standing Committee on Language and Research, the Administration will undertake a strategic review of our language policy, which is founded on "biliteracy and trilingualism". The review will evaluate existing curriculum and teaching practices, set learning targets, review teacher training programmes, and assess the environmental factors affecting student motivation to learn. We aim to complete the review in about a year. How the business community can help

By now, I hope you will agree with me that the education reform is a mammoth task. The Administration cannot accomplish the mission alone. We need your help. That is why I am here today.

There is a symbiotic relationship between the business community and the education sector. Education provides the human resources for businesses; and to be employable, our graduates must possess the skills and attributes required in the business world. This calls for collaboration between businesses and education institutions in the design of the curriculum for both academic and vocational education.

Increasingly, education authorities around the world recognise the importance of linking learning to employment, and are taking steps to bridge the traditional divide between academic and vocational education. In the United Kingdom, for example, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority was established to bring together vocational and academic study and qualifications, and a new Learning and Skills Council brings together for the first time education and skills training into a single planning and funding system.

We welcome the participation of business representatives in the Curriculum Development Council of the Education Department, the Faculty Advisory Committees of universities, and the training boards of the Vocational Training Council to advise on employers' expectations of the generic and technical skills which secondary and tertiary graduates should possess. We are also pleased to see the establishment of Manpower Committees on IT and Financial Services to address issues specific to the two sectors where there is a manpower shortage. We hope to see more proactive involvement of businesses in education and manpower planning and development.

More recently, we have involved chambers of commerce and trade associations in developing skills upgrading programmes to meet the needs of modern day operations. For example, a tripartite committee comprising representatives of employers, employees and training bodies has developed a comprehensive programme to upgrade the skills of workers in the printing industry. Similar arrangements are being set up for the retail, import and export, printing, transport, catering and textile industries.

Businesses can also influence the quality of education more directly by participating in school management. Last year, the Education Department initiated the business-school partnership programme as part of the Workplace English Campaign. The programme aims to provide students with the opportunity to experience authentic use of English in the workplace. There are two modes of partnership. Scheme A involves business executives giving talks in the school on the nature, demands and requirements of the workplace. Scheme B involves student attachment at the workplace for a few days to obtain first-hand experience about workplace requirements. Altogether 100 business organisations and 170 schools participated.

Feedback from participants showed that the programme had helped to enhance students' awareness of the importance of English in the workplace and their understanding of the business environment. However, the impact was limited due to the short duration and sporadic nature of the activities. To foster a closer tie between businesses and schools, we shall propose to the steering committee to modify the programme so that businesses and schools would be free to choose their own partners and work out the details of the partnership.

For example, businesses can assist in financial and personnel management of the school, provide training for principals and senior teachers, offer summer job attachment for students, sponsor school activities, serve as mentors to students who lack family support, and give talks on current issues. In return, the business will buy goodwill and promote its corporate image. For the scheme to work, there will have to be long-term commitment and openness of attitude on both side.

On a more general front, businesses can help to promote home school cooperation by encouraging their employees, e.g. by giving them time-off, to participate in parent-teacher conferences and school activities. Long working hours have become a common phenomenon in Hong Kong. This has taken a toll on family life and parent-child relationship, and may have detrimental effect on the development of our young people. Employers can help to minimise any negative impact by allowing employees with young children more flexible working hours. With modern technologies, it should be possible to operate from home.

In his last policy address, the Chief Executive earmarked $50 million for parent education. At present, schools largely rely on Parent-Teacher Associations to communicate with parents and solicit their cooperation. However, very often, parents whose children are most in need of help do not turn up at PTA activities. An alternative, and probably more effective, way of reaching parents will be at the workplace. I appeal to employers to incorporate parent education in their in-house training programmes, and allow time during the working day or lunch hours for employees to attend such talks. The Education Department will be happy to field speakers and provide training resources. Businesses which take care of the family well-being of their employees will have more satisfied workers and command their loyalty.

In Ontario, one day each year is assigned for grade 9 students, i.e. fifteen year-olds, to go to work with their parents or relatives, and the employer will arrange for a special programme to give students first-hand experience of the workplace. For students who do not have working parents, or where the employer does not wish to entertain them, the school authorities will make alternative arrangements. The experience helps young people better understand and appreciate their parents. I would like to hear your views whether a similar scheme would work, and should be introduced, in Hong Kong.

For those of you who are interested in the direct provision of education and training, I welcome you to consider running programmes in the areas of IT, financial services, logistics, tourism and hospitality services where there is a shortfall of manpower supply has been projected. There is a huge demand for post-secondary education among secondary school leavers, as is shown by the overwhelming response to the programmes offered by the Vocational Training Council and continuing education institutions. We will facilitate tertiary institutions and private enterprises in setting up post-secondary education programmes and provide grants and loans to needy students.

We also look to employers to provide feedback on the quality of our university graduates, and workers in general, so as to help us identify possible improvements to our curriculum and the all-round development of our young people.

For those who are already pre-occupied with their own businesses and cannot find the time, but who may also wish to contribute to education, you can choose to give donations. You may consider sponsoring student exchange programmes, research projects and Chair Professorship of universities, scholarship for students from the Mainland, computers for needy students, and awards for outstanding teachers. Various forms of recognition can be arranged to suit your aspiration.

There are many ways in which businesses can contribute to education in Hong Kong. There is always something to suit everyone. When you are frustrated with your employees, or the quality of applicants in a recruitment exercise; when you feel like lashing out at our education system, ask yourself what you can do to make things better. I hope the Business Coalition on Education will become an active partner and a force to reckon with in the Hong Kong education system.


Education is an investment in the future. Franklin Roosevelt once said, "We cannot always build the future for our youths, but we can build our youths for the future". To succeed in the education reform, we must engage the entire community to go forward together, if we are to go forward at all.

The business community has helped to make Hong Kong what it is today, one of the greatest cosmopolitan communities and the freest economy in the world. The four pillars of our success are the rule of law, a level playing field, a clean and efficient government and free flow of information. Looking to the future, we must add a fifth pillar "competent workforce" in order to maintain our competitiveness in the new economy.

With the intellect, expertise and resources of a vibrant business community in Hong Kong, I am confident that together we will achieve our goal of nurturing a new generation of young people who are "proactive, communicative, committed and innovative, and who possess self-learning skills and a global outlook". Let us hold our hands, keep up our chins, and prod on "firm in our faith, steadfast in our purpose, cautious of the pitfalls, sustained by our confidence".

Thank you.

END/Tuesday, February 27, 2001