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DE's speech at Moral Education Seminar


The following is the speech by the Director of Education, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at the Seminar on Moral Education for Youth in the New Century today (July 20):

Ms Wu, Distinguished Guests, Principals and Teachers,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here this afternoon and to meet so many people who share the commitment to promoting moral education and enhancing the best interests of youths in Hong Kong. On behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government, let me extend my warmest welcome to all the visitors from afar. I would like to thank Ms Annie Wu for organizing this seminar. It provides a perfect and timely opportunity for academics, professionals and policy-makers, both local and international, to exchange views and discuss the important issue of moral education. I also wish to thank the professionals and representatives from UNIFEM, UNICEF and other agencies for participating in this most worthwhile seminar.

New Age, New Way

We have entered a new millenium - a millenium characterized by rapid advances in science and information technology. We are facing new challenges. These challenges are universal: there are lingering concerns about the impact of increasing globalization and the onset of a knowledge-based economy. The advent of the knowledge-based economy has brought a new dimension to literacy, which means the ability to construct meaning from text. This is a new mode of thinking and forms the basis for life-long learning. As knowledge becomes abundant and thus easily falls obsolete in the Information Age, it is imperative for us to learn the right things, as well as to learn in the right way. To learn the right things calls for innovation in curriculum design whilst to learn in the right way calls for innovation in pedagogy. But most important of all, it requires the learners to adopt a proactive stance, backed by a reflective mind in learning.

Moral challenges

Nevertheless, irrespective of its rapid development and the surge of optimism for a better world, the new millenium has brought along complex problems and controversial moral issues as well. In the global dimension, there are the new environmental challenges. The immense advances in genetic science are associated with a series of complicated ethical dilemmas. In the local context, our youngsters are inevitably subject to moral confrontation. There is the challenge of drug abuse in rave parties and in public entertainment places. There is the moral issue of surfing on the net which leads to concern over upholding intellectual property rights. What is more, the unbridled influence of the media has a demoralizing effect on our youths as a result of their undue exposure to the sensationalism, violence, bloodshed, and pornography through their day-to-day encounters. All these pose an array of moral challenges to our youngsters who may feel lost, confounded and bewildered, given the many conflicting values.

In face of this situation, there is call for a balanced treatment in developing the intellectual mind and moral judgement of our young people. It is imperative for us to better equip our future generations with the ability to exercise critical thinking and informed moral judgment so that they may harness changes with times and emerge as independently minded and responsible moral beings, ready to contribute to the betterment of society, the nation and the world at large. Education, by common consent, provides the answers to these challenges.

Our Commitment

Education tops the agenda of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. Education is the largest expenditure item for the Government, accounting for some 22 percent of its recurrent expenditure. It is generally agreed that school education plays an important role in nurturing the all-round development of students in five domains, namely ethics, intellect, physique, social skills and aesthetics. Ethics comes first in these five values. The Hong Kong Education Department attaches great importance to moral education. We have been giving continuous support to principals and teachers to enhance their capabilities in promoting moral education in schools. First, General Guidelines on Moral Education which set out the direction and its mode of implementation have been issued for reference of schools. The Guidelines provide a general framework for schools to design their school-based moral education programmes. Second, teacher enhancement programmes in the form of seminars and workshops are regularly organized to keep educators abreast of new development in moral education and provide opportunities for an exchange of views and experience. Third, learning and teaching resources are produced and exemplars are prepared to support frontline educators.

New Needs, New Paradigm

To further equip our students to meet the needs of the future, the Government has, in recent years, initiated a comprehensive review of the whole education system with the aim of drawing up a blueprint for the 21st century. Of the key reform initiatives, curriculum reform is one of the few vital areas in which moral and civic education is accorded high priority. Let me now share with you the vision of our reform in moral and civic education for Hong Kong schools.

In setting the direction for moral education for the 21st century, due regard has been given to the local context and the role of Hong Kong in the world. As students' values formation is the result of the interplay between their personal experiences and the societal environment at large, our moral education curriculum is designed with the vision for students to perceive themselves not only as individuals but also as members of the society, the nation, and as global citizens. This means that there is the need to strengthen their sense of commitment to themselves, the family, society, nation, and the world. In particular, with Hong Kong reunited with China since 1997, our younger generation needs to enhance its sense of national identity. Such a view is congruent with the overall aim of education in Hong Kong for the 21st century and let me quote our aim :

"To enable every person to attain all-round development in the domains of ethics, intellect, physique, social skills and aesthetics according to his/her own attributes so that he/she is capable of life-long learning, critical and exploratory thinking, innovating and adapting to change; filled with self-confidence and a team spirit; willing to put forward continuing effort for the prosperity, progress, freedom and democracy of their society, and contribute to the future well-being of the nation and the world at large."

The concept of moral and civic education varied in emphasis among cultures through the ages. In the current local context, we have adopted a holistic framework of moral and civic education. This framework encompasses any curriculum which has a bearing on the values development of students, such as sex education, environmental education, health education, drug education, media education, etc. Under the new framework, the promotion of moral education in schools seeks to help students develop a holistic view in analysing personal, social and global issues.

New Approach

In line with this holistic framework, we have adopted a life-event approach in designing the moral education curriculum which emphasizes establishing meaningful connection between students' heuristic experiences, their daily life experiences and personal growth. This life-event approach, exemplifying typical real-life scenarios, will effectively promote values building in students. By appropriately selecting significant events at certain key stages of the students' personal and social development in the context of their family lives, school lives and social lives, the provision of authentic learning contexts helps foster in students a sense of empathy and encourage reflection upon the inherent values and attitudes. With its learner-focused orientation, the life-event approach provides a fertile ground for the development of skills, values and attitudes. Based on this open framework, schools are encouraged to exercise flexibility in designing school-based moral education programmes which best suit the needs of their students.

Nuts and Bolts

The life-event approach emphasizes incorporating the daily experiences of students into the learning process to build up their values. Let me illustrate this idea with the following life events :

* Having pocket money is a personal experience encountered by almost every student. Through discussing different ways in which students obtain and spend their money, teachers can make use of this event to help students explore and clarify the core values related to the event, namely frugality, simplicity, healthy living, self-discipline, responsibility, independence, value of money, etc;

* Making new friends, which involves a complicated love-hate relationship in the process, is rewarding for personal growth and character refinement for every youngster. The values and attitudes to be developed cover a wide area ranging from respect for others, tolerance, acceptance, forgiveness, making compromise, to cooperation, appreciation and self-reflection, etc;

* Teachers can also make use of the event about students' taking up responsible post in class/school to help students deliberate and reflect on the values of responsibility, commitment, service, a sense of belonging, love and concern for the school, etc; and

* Life events relating to setbacks commonly faced by our youth today, ranging from failures in the examinations, breaking up with lovers to being reprimanded by parents or teachers, provide many instances for teachers to help students face emotional problems positively, cultivate a healthy self-esteem, and develop their ability to cope with stress and adversities.

Through adopting a multi-pronged strategy and engaging students in meaningful discourse, teachers can facilitate students to clarify, exemplify and defend their values stance. As a consequence, it helps students internalize and commit to the values they hold.

An Arduous Task

To put theory into practice, it involves reorientation in both the mindset of moral educators and the pedagogy in promoting moral education. Teachers need to be open minded enough to tolerate differences in opinions, encouraging enough to create an open learning climate, and professional enough to integrate students' daily experiences into moral education curriculum. All these are no easy tasks for teachers.

In support of the life-event approach to moral education, details have been outlined in the recently released curriculum reform final report on Learning to Learn - Life-Long Learning and Whole-person Development. Our Department will strengthen the teacher enhancement programmes to further develop teachers' pedagogical skills in adopting the life-event approach. Newly designed resources packages will be produced, exemplars will be prepared and experience-sharing sessions will be held to assist teachers to implement this approach in moral education.

Roles of Key Players

Bearing in mind the significance of life-event approach for values building in our young generation, the realization of our vision requires concerted efforts and support from various key players of society. While we believe that students should have access to an enhancing learning environment to develop their potentials in full, it is imperative that students should take an active role, be committed and reflective in the value-formation process.

As regards teachers who act as role-models to facilitate student learning, teaching through deeds is most effective in helping students formulate values and attitudes. Clearly, a teacher who is never late save for exceptional occasions is the best argument for promoting punctuality in students. To enhance in-depth understanding of the values underpinning desirable practices, an open learning and teaching culture ought to be developed to cultivate in students a liberal mind to respect the rights and accept the differences of others.

At the school level, a favourable school ethos and life-wide learning opportunities ought to be created and these should be conducive to developing values and attitudes in students. Co-curricular activities, such as visiting or rendering service to schools, the neighbourhood, the local community, the whole society, or the Mainland, have a role to play in helping students achieve the overall aims of education in the following aspects :

* To foster self-esteem and self-confidence;

* To facilitate full development of potentials;

* To develop a sense of responsibility towards the community and encourage active participation in community building; and

* To establish one's role in society and a sense of belonging to the mother country.

Concerted Societal Efforts

Apart from the important roles played by students, teachers, and the school, we also recognize the importance of partnership with parents and school in implementing moral education. Parents have an important part to play in their children's education. Let us not forget that home-school cooperation and the involvement of parents in educational affairs underpin the healthy development of moral and civic values in students.

Last but not least, I must emphasize that tapping resources of the community through forging closer partnership with schools plays an important role in students' values formation. Relevant social organisations such as youth service groups, social service groups, uniformed groups, culture and art organizations, sports groups or charity organizations could be mobilized to offer human and financial support to provide students with authentic life-wide learning opportunities, both inside and outside the classroom. Collaboration between schools and the various sectors of society should be a source of strength contributive to values building in our students.

Moral Education: The Keystone of Education

In essence, moral and civic education should not be considered incidental to the schooling of youngsters. Instead, it should be considered central to the purposes of education and essential to the well-being of students, society, nation and the world. In the Chinese tradition, while a man of talents topping the social ladder is awarded high status in society, a man of virtues (or good character), such as integrity, respect, responsibility and commitment, to name a few, gains far greater honour and respect, regardless of his origin and social standing. Conversely, a man with social status but without virtues would command little respect. Given that the notion of character building is gaining universal appeal, we believe that the value for building good character promotes achievements in all areas of life in the worldwide context.


For any reform to succeed, it takes time and efforts. This is equally true for the building of moral values and attitudes. Our vision is that students should be well equipped with a thinking mind and a compassionate heart to survive the complex challenges. They should be able to think, feel, serve, love, and be willing to be committed to their families, society, country, and global community so that they will emerge as informed, responsible world citizens. This is no easy task but we are determined to rise to the challenge. The presence here today of so many experts in moral education, both local and international, sets the platform for professional exchanges. I am sure this seminar will give us further wholesome food for thought. Thank you.

End/Friday, July 20, 2001


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