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Speech by PSEM at international education symposium


The following is a speech by the Permanent Secretary for Education and Manpower, Mrs Fanny Law, at the Yew Chung Education Foundation 70th Anniversary International Education Symposium: Educating the Global Child today (November 4) (English only):

Dr Chan, distinguished speakers, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Hong Kong is proud to be home to Yew Chung, an organisation committed to the promotion of quality international education. And I am honoured to be invited to address this symposium to celebrate Yew Chung's 70 years of distinguished services. The theme of this Symposium, "Educating the Global Child", aptly encapsulates the challenges to educators in the 21st century.

Global Education and Hong Kong

Inculcating a global outlook in our younger generation is a necessary mission of all governments in the 21st century. Today the world is more connected and the interests of nations more intertwined, as a result of technological advancement and free flow of people, services, goods and information across territorial boundaries. The Asian crisis in 1998 and the SARS outbreak earlier this year are vivid examples of how we can no longer afford in live in isolation. The lightning pace with which new knowledge emerges leaves us only one choice - to constantly update or become outdated.

In an increasingly mobile world, people relocate in search of preferred lifestyles, personal aspirations, and job opportunities. On the other hand, countries compete to attract talents to meet public and private sector needs. By an accident of history, Hong Kong has been the meeting place of the East and the West, which gives the "Pearl of the Orient" a unique shine. Following the change of sovereignty in 1997, Hong Kong continues to be an international city which prides itself on the rule of law, the free and open economy, a level playing field, freedom of speech and association, and low taxation.

While we are proud to be a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China, we value the international character of Hong Kong, with its cultural and ethnic diversity. In education, we prepare our young people to be global citizens who can understand and empathise with different cultures, and can operate effectively in a multi-cultural environment. We wish our students to be Hong Kong citizens with a sense of national identity and a global outlook.

International Education

Hong Kong is home to the Regional Headquarters and offices of over 3,000 companies, and close to 300,000 expatriate workers. To support the education of expatriate children, we have 55 international schools, up from 40 a decade ago. Not only do these schools provide expatriate children with an education which facilitates articulation to the curriculum structure of their home countries, they also, in varying degrees, seek to integrate with the local system.

In addition to a "mother-tongue" stream, some international schools also operate a section that uses English as the medium of instruction. Where capacity permits, international schools are also open to local children. They have become a welcome part of our local education rubric. The cynics have interpreted this as a lack of faith in the local system. I see this as an encouraging sign that parents recognise the increasing importance of international education, a vision shared by the government.

International Education in Local Schools

To realise this vision, it is government policy to encourage more schools which will support the education of both local and expatriate students. Since 2000, we have encouraged the development of private independent schools which enjoy flexibility in curriculum design and medium of instruction and can determine their own admission criteria, including the flexibility to admit up to 30% non-local students. We expect many of these schools to adopt an international curriculum with elements of Chinese culture that can meet the needs of both local and expatriate students. Our universities also recognise such curriculum for admission. From now to 2008, 10 private independent schools will commence operation.

The development of private independent schools and international schools, and the growing links between these schools and local schools not only enrich the social and cultural fabric of our society but also enhance the exposure of our children to the diverse cultures through interacting with expatriate children who have come from different parts of the world.

However, international education should not be the preserve of international schools only. International education helps young people to understand the world better, both in terms of the divisions and synergies that exist across nations or economic blocs. When George Walker, the Director General of the International Baccalaureate Organisation was in Hong Kong last February, he talked about the "divided world" and the challenge to international education of helping students to understand the relationships, at the personal, cultural and universal levels. In this respect, all schools have the responsibility to provide students with this understanding and prepare them, at the same time, to be citizens of one's own country and, at the same time, global citizens.

We expect our local schools to incorporate an international dimension into the curriculum, to inculcate in students a readiness to accept with magnanimity the uniqueness of oneself and others, the commitment to be responsible global citizens who will contribute to the well-being of the human race, the ability to acquire knowledge on their own, a global outlook and a responsible attitude to life. All these underlie the education and curriculum reforms that are now underway.

I am glad to say that schools in Hong Kong are increasingly aware of the need to prepare students not merely for public examinations, but also for life. Capitalising on the flexibility that the Government has provided, schools have become more adventurous in designing school-based curriculum within the broad framework laid down by the Government. Schools are also encouraged to explore with alternative curricula. For admission decisions, local universities also accept qualifications alternative to the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme, which is gaining popularity among local schools in Hong Kong.

Moving Forward with Additional Initiatives

In the 21st century, international competition is a competition for talent. Hong Kong must build on its strengths as an international city to attract global settlers. Earlier this year, the Chief Secretary announced in a report on Population Policy various measures to attract Mainland professionals and expatriate talent, including Hong Kong people who have emigrated overseas to return and work in Hong Kong. We also welcome investment immigrants from overseas.

The former Financial Secretary, in his last Budget Speech, also floated the idea of attracting young talent from the Mainland and overseas to receive basic education in Hong Kong. If they stay long enough, say, to attend local universities, they will also acquire the right of abode in Hong Kong.

Closing Remarks

Hong Kong is an open society and an international city. We welcome people from all over the world and cherish cultural and ethnic diversity which makes Hong Kong so unique. We expect the demand for international education to increase in the years to come. We have taken steps to gear up our education system to support education for the global child, and to inculcate a global outlook among local students. For 70 years, Yew Chung Foundation has been a much valued partner in these endeavours and has successfully established itself as one of the leading providers of international education in Hong Kong, serving both local and expatriate children. I wish the Foundation continued success and achievements for many years to come!

Ends/Tuesday, November 4, 2003


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