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Speech by SED at 2009 Hong Kong Management Association Annual Fellowship Dinner (English only)

     Following is the speech by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, on "The World has Changed, so Must We - Is the New Academic Structure the Answer?" delivered at the 2009 Hong Kong Management Association Annual Fellowship Dinner today (November 27):

(Dr Hon) David (Li), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     It gives me great pleasure to address you tonight.

     Let me first thank the Hong Kong Management Association for inviting me to join this big event of your annual calendar.  I would also like to congratulate the new fellows and charter members of the association, and the graduates who are receiving their diplomas this evening.

     I am sure to most of the members of the business community here tonight, the Sino-US relationship means much to you.  You must have closely followed the news reports about President Hu Jintao's meeting with US President Obama in Beijing last week.  It was reported that the two leaders exchanged views on a number of economic, strategic and environmental issues during their meeting.  Both acknowledged that closer dialogue and co-operation between the two nations are necessary to tackle the world's problems.

     It is clear that globalisation has changed the way in which the world economy is operating.  United actions of different nations are necessary to ensure that we will walk the road of recovery to bring the world economy back to growth.  There is also no doubt that our country is exercising more and more influence on the world stage, and is playing a key role in restoring the global economy.

     So, are we in Hong Kong well placed to meet the challenges that come by and turn them into opportunities?  I would not be hesitant to say "Yes", as Hong Kong has strong fundamentals.  We are an international city in Asia, and a gateway for the world players to the vast market of our country.  Our financial system is sound and resilient.  Here in Hong Kong we enjoy law and order, a level playing field and freedom of speech, which are all essential fundamentals that really count.

     Yet, all of these are not enough if we do not have the necessary human capital which is geared up to meet the challenges and which is well equipped to strive for a better tomorrow.  For this, we need to prepare our younger generation.

     Intense regional and global competition, as well as rapid advances in technologies are making what we have learnt obsolete quickly.  Our young people should be able to select and apply knowledge to solve new problems in changing circumstances.  Hence, what matters is no longer accumulation of knowledge, but the ability to learn and generate new knowledge, and the ability to analyse problems and identify relevant solutions.  To survive and to thrive, our young people have to develop the requisite skills and manners to become lifelong learners and critical thinkers.  

     More so, as you would agree, global climate change and other social issues may have a significant impact on the economic scene.  We should no longer look at merely trade or financial issues in sustaining the development of our economy.  Our young people therefore should have a broad knowledge base and a sense of social responsibility.  All-round and whole-person development is essential.

     The community is looking up to our education system to produce such home-grown talent.  I am glad to say that we are heading in the right direction in our education reform.  Back in 2005, the Government developed a blueprint for the implementation of a new academic structure for senior secondary and undergraduate levels, or more commonly known as the 334.  After four years of preparation and engagement with various stakeholders, the new senior secondary education, or in short, NSS, took effect at Secondary Four this September.  The new academic structure aims to provide a broad knowledge base to our students, preparing them as lifelong learners and promoting their whole-person development.  We will provide students with smoother multiple pathways to higher and further education and the workplace as well, so that every student will have a better opportunity to succeed in life.

     I am sure you would have come across the terms 334 or NSS before.  But in what way does the new academic structure relate to you?

     Most of you here tonight are senior managers, while some are young executives who will attain such positions one day.  I am sure you want to recruit and retain the best staff to assist you.  I think you probably would like to look for people who are able to think out of the box, articulate clearly his ideas, be sensitive to social and environmental issues, and can serve as good team members.

     The 334 academic structure is the right recipe for producing such talent for our society.  First, the NSS curriculum is broad and balanced with diversified choices for students to choose from according to their aptitudes and interests.  On top of the three subjects of Chinese Language, English Language, and Mathematics, all students are required to take Liberal Studies as a core subject, which aims to develop their critical thinking mindset and the skills of seeing things from multiple perspectives.

     To enable students to have balanced whole-person development, at least 15% of the total lesson time in senior secondary levels would be allocated for Other Learning Experiences. These are programmes which encompass five areas, namely, Moral and Civic Education, Community Service, Aesthetic Development, Physical Development and Career-related Experiences.  These learning opportunities will add much value to their future careers.

     Apart from core subjects, students can choose two to three electives from a wide range of subjects, including those newly introduced Applied Learning courses which are more focused on practical learning linked to vocational fields.  I guess many of you, at some point in time, were educated in Hong Kong and may still recall vividly the two public examinations you took, so much effort made, and the subjects you selected.  At your time, there were mainly arts and science streams for you to choose from.  But we no longer stream students at such an early stage as in the past.  Students are now encouraged to develop all round knowledge and multiple perspectives.  For example, a student can select a combined science elective and a humanities subject.

     Starting from 2012, the six years of secondary education will lead to the single credential of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, or for short the HKDSE, which replaces the two current public examinations.  Instead of the existing grading system under which the grades are only indicating how the students compare to the same cohort of students in the  examination, the HKDSE will make use of standards-referenced reporting in which the standard of achievement by students are actually indicating the ability levels of the students.  We will no longer have a passing grade.  Each level will be accompanied by descriptors depicting the standards attained by candidates in terms of knowledge and abilities.  Employers will have to determine the ability required of the candidates to match the job in question.  This new reporting system will provide useful information on student achievement to employers.

     All the local tertiary institutions have already announced their general admission requirements of HKDSE results under the new system, and we are now liaising with the post-secondary education operators on their general admission requirements.  We are also seeking recognition of HKDSE results from overseas agencies.  In parallel, we are deliberating within the Government the minimum levels of HKDSE results for civil service employment.

     At the higher education level, institutions will align with the secondary school curriculum and implement a four-year undergraduate structure from 2012 onwards.  The institutions are currently busy preparing for the transition.  Extending the undergraduate programmes by one year requires the institutions to take a comprehensive look at the curriculum and redevelop it.  Undergraduates will be able to take more general core subjects outside their major subjects.  Undergraduates will also have more chances to engage in overseas exchange activities.  These moves will enable undergraduates to have a broader outlook and get more out of their university education.

     To make the new academic structure a success, the business sector has an indispensable role to play.  May I urge all leaders of the business community to continue to lend support to us.  Your involvement can be in two areas.  First, business entities are encouraged to provide our undergraduates with more learning opportunities outside the classroom.  Career-related training or placement programmes are all valuable experiences to them.  More importantly, we appeal to you to cast a vote of confidence for our new academic structure.  We strongly believe that the young talent produced under the new system will better meet the needs of the latest demand of our economy.  Please give them the responsibility they are craving for, and offer them opportunities to test their capabilities.  In return, they will become valuable assets of your business.

     On our part, we will continue to maintain a dialogue with the business community and we welcome your feedback on how the implementation of the new system can be further improved.  To help you understand and get prepared for the change, we have and will continue to share with employers how to interpret and apply the HKDSE results for human resources planning and management purposes, including setting job requirements.

     It only remains for me to commend the Hong Kong Management Association for its dedicated work over the years in bringing up talent and promoting management excellence in Hong Kong.  I wish the association every success in its future endeavours.  

     I wish you all an enjoyable evening. Thank you.

Ends/Friday, November 27, 2009
Issued at HKT 20:18


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