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SED's speech at education seminar in Malaysia - Education Reforms in Hong Kong in the 21st Century for a Globalised World (English only) (with photos)

     The following is the keynote speech by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, at the education seminar "Education Reforms in Hong Kong in the 21st Century for a Globalised World" in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, today (May 18):

Honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen,

     Good morning and I welcome you all to this education seminar.  It is my great pleasure to address a distinguished audience of academic and community leaders.     

     As most people would agree, Asia plays an increasingly important role in the international arena.  We Asians are now presented with tremendous opportunities to strengthen ties among ourselves.  Malaysia is the first stop of a series of our visits to Asian countries.  I will be visiting a number of Asian neighbours later this week and later this year.  I look forward to establishing closer collaboration with all of them.

     This morning, I would like to share with you the latest developments in Hong Kong on the education front.  We believe that through experience sharing, we can all learn from each other to thrive in the 21st century.

Commitment to education

     Unlike Malaysia, Hong Kong is not endowed with rich natural resources.  Human capital is our most important asset.  It is with this belief that the Hong Kong Government has taken education as our top priority.  For every four dollars we spend, one dollar is on education.  This makes me the biggest spender within the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

     The education system of Hong Kong has served us well.  We however must ensure that the system can stand the test of time.  We recognise that we must proactively embrace a fundamental change to our education system - a change to cater for the needs in the modern world.

Globalisation as a driver of change

     Globalisation has been bringing fundamental changes to many aspects of our life.  International collaboration and rapid developments in information technology have removed barriers for trade, finance, transport and communication.  The creation, updating and application of knowledge have become the key to the success of industries, organisations and individuals.

     In the old days, people would count themselves fortunate to have an academic or professional qualification, and then pursue a long, long career for the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, this is no longer a viable option.  We are now in a knowledge-based society faced with the prospect of exposure to new frontiers of knowledge and changes to things around us at ever increasing speed and at much shorter intervals.  In other words, all our knowledge has a limited shelf life.  Information is abundant, and is invariably becoming more conflicting.  Most of our problems often involve inter-locking issues that cut across different disciplines.  Our younger generations will probably pursue different jobs throughout their career, and in areas which are yet unknown to  us.  For them to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex world, we must equip our youngsters with a broad knowledge base, an aptitude for life-long learning and the readiness to venture into new frontiers of knowledge whenever necessary.

     Against this background, we have critically reviewed the mission and function of our education system.  We believe that education in the 21st century should enable everyone to be in charge of their own life and chart their own destiny.  To rise to the challenges, Hong Kong has set in motion an ambitious, but essential, review and reform of our education system at the turn of this century.  Our goal is for all students to develop into balanced individuals who can contribute in meaningful ways to society, and who can draw on their own internal resources to continue to learn, apply their strengths and address their weaknesses.

     The reform is comprehensive.  It encompasses reforming the curricula, improving assessment practices, enhancing quality assurance, expanding access to post-secondary education, reviewing the public examinations and ultimately, introducing a new academic structure.  We are now implementing the new curricula and new academic structure for senior secondary and higher education.  I will give you an overview, and my colleagues will brief you in greater detail later on.

Curriculum reform at the basic education level

     In Hong Kong, we provide 12 years of free education.  Through basic education, we expect to enable every student to attain all-round development in the domains of ethics, intellect, physique, social skills and aesthetics.  We also hope that our students will start developing a habit of lifelong learning, critical and exploratory thinking, innovating and adapting to change in their formative years.

     To realise this vision, our schools have been making a lot of efforts to offer a broad and balanced curriculum to help students build a solid foundation.  Four key tasks, namely moral and civic education, reading to learn, project learning and information technology for interactive learning, are used to enhance self-learning capabilities, especially the three core skills of critical thinking, creativity and communication.

     With significant progress made in the key areas of the curriculum reform, our education reform has achieved the outcomes that we hoped for.  It is encouraging to note that our school principals and teachers have enhanced their teaching and learning strategies to strengthen student learning.  Our students' generic capacities in such areas as communication, creativity and critical thinking have noticeably improved, and they are developing as more independent learners.  Cultivation of students' generic skills, positive values and attitudes has also been strengthened.  In addition, more effective strategies are being employed to help our students improve their basic competency in Chinese and English.

     We are motivated by the high standards shown by our students in reading, science and mathematics against their peers around the world.  A solid foundation is hence laid for us to move forward in our reform.

The New Academic Structure for Senior Secondary and Higher Education

     Built on the experiences of the curriculum reform at the basic education level, the education reform process has now entered the next stage.  After years of preparation, our schools opened their doors to the first batch of senior secondary students under the New Academic Structure in September 2009.  They will undergo three years of senior secondary education, followed by four years of undergraduate education.

A broad and balanced curriculum for all

     The new senior secondary curriculum caters for the learning needs of all students, so that students with different aptitudes, interests and abilities can give full play to their potential.  It also provides greater learning space and widens students' knowledge base for all-round development.

     Under the new senior secondary curriculum, all students will study a broad and balanced curriculum, including four core subjects (that is, Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies), two to three elective subjects and other learning experiences.

     The four core subjects will enable students to develop biliterate and trilingual fluencies and enhanced literacy in mathematics.  They will also develop critical thinking, inquiry skills and multi- perspective thinking through exploring contemporary issues and positive citizenship in Liberal Studies.

     Apart from the four core subjects, students will be able to select two to three electives from a wide spectrum of 20 subjects spanning arts, humanities and science including other foreign languages and Applied Learning that suit their interests, aptitudes and abilities.  The new senior secondary subjects will help broaden the learning of students while developing the potential of individuals.

     Other learning experiences, as one of the three components that complement the core and elective subjects, aim further to widen students' horizons, to develop their lifelong interests and more importantly, to nurture positive values and attitudes.

     Assessment arrangements have to be transformed to ensure alignment with changes to the curriculum.  The New Academic Structure will have one public examination at the end of the senior secondary education, replacing the current two examinations.  With one fewer public examination, the pressure on students and teachers will be reduced and the learning time and space as well as learning effectiveness will be increased.

     The new examination, the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSE), will adopt standards-referenced reporting to give more information about what students know and can do.  The new academic system will align Hong Kong with a number of important international systems including those of the USA and Mainland China, and allow better international articulation.  Furthermore, the new senior secondary curricula have been internationally benchmarked.  My colleague, Dr Catherine K K Chan, will in a moment provide you with further details on the new curriculum of the HKDSE.

     A recurrent theme in the new academic structure is to provide all students with the opportunity to receive a higher level of education, and to provide them with a more broad-based curriculum according to their individual needs and abilities so as to pave way for their success.  Our universities have also made clear their support for these goals.  This brings us to the next stage of our journey.

The new four-year undergraduate programme

     The first batch of new senior secondary students will take the HKDSE in 2012 and apply for admission to universities. We will extend the length of undergraduate programmes by one year to four years correspondingly.

     The new four year undergraduate programme will not be a mere extension of the existing programme by duplicating existing content.  Our universities have taken this opportunity to give new meaning to undergraduate education and to reengineer the whole approach to their education aims.  Traditionally, it was considered that degree programmes in professional domains should be highly specialised and need not involve knowledge in other domains.  In the face of rapid globalisation and information explosion, it is no longer realistic to expect a first degree student to acquire all knowledge required for his future career.  It is much more important and more relevant to teach them how to find solutions to problems on their own and adapt to changing circumstances.

     A four-year undergraduate programme will give universities more time and space to provide a broader and more diversified curriculum and multi-disciplinary learning experiences.  This will widen studentsˇ¦ horizons and expose them to both specialised and broad knowledge for  more balanced whole-person development.


     Parallel to the curriculum reform, our universities are pressing ahead with their internationalisation efforts, with the staunch support of the Government.  In this globalised era, academics and students alike are becoming increasingly mobile.  Since the advent of higher education in Hong Kong a century ago, our universities have become home to scholars from every corner of the globe.  Their presence has enriched the academic life at our institutions and made our higher education system all the stronger.  We are privileged to be able to recruit the best brains around the world.

     In the age of globalisation, distance is no longer a constraint to communication.  The upside is that opportunities for collaboration abound; the downside is that competition is never closer to home.  We therefore see it as important to provide our students with an early taste of different cultures, values and perspectives so that they can start immersing themselves in a pluralistic and diverse environment.  Not everyone can afford to pursue studies overseas, but we can encourage short-term exchange programmes and bring the experience on campus.

     This is an area in which the Government can play a more supportive role.  We have set up a Government Scholarship Fund to sponsor non-local students, including Malaysian students, to come to Hong Kong.  We have so far awarded scholarships to 155 non-local students.  We have introduced new immigration measures to allow students to take internships and stay upon graduation to seek jobs.  We have increased the quota for non-local students in publicly funded institutions to 20%.

     I believe Hong Kong is well placed to further internationalise its higher education sector and develop itself as a regional education hub.  Hong Kong is a place where East meets West.  The English-speaking environment, cosmopolitan nature of campus life and the rich cultural environment are all conducive to nurturing students with an international outlook.

     More importantly, we have world class institutions.  I am pleased to share with you that our institutions enjoy excellent rankings - three in the top five in Asia, and top 50 in the world, and another two universities within the top 200 in the world.  Hong Kong universities host the worldˇ¦s best executive business management programmes.  The EMBA programme offered by The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, in collaboration with the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University, was ranked first by the Financial Times in 2007 and 2009.  However, we are not complacent.  Our universities will continue to enhance quality and build up their visibility in this part of the region.  We welcome your students, your friends and your children to come to Hong Kong for further studies, or an exchange programme to have a taste of our way of life, academic or otherwise.


     Ladies and gentlemen, the education reform in Hong Kong allows us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink the mission of education and improve the system for the challenges of the 21st century.  We have embarked on this journey for a decade, yet more work is still waiting for us ahead.  With the studentsˇ¦ well-being as our top priority, I have strong confidence that we are on the right track of securing a brighter future for our next generation.  Thank you.

Ends/Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Issued at HKT 14:35


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