Speech by CS at Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong 80th Anniversary Scientific Conference opening ceremony (English only) (with photos/video)
The Honourable Justice Chan (President of the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong, Mr Justice Patrick Chan), Professor Joseph Sung (Vice-Chancellor and President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong), Professor Heckman (Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences (2000), and Henry Shultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for the Economics of Human Development of the University of Chicago, Professor James Heckman), Dr Pawelski (Director of Education and Senior Scholar of the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr James Pawelski), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to be with you this morning at the 80th Anniversary Scientific Conference of the Boys' and Girls' Clubs Association of Hong Kong (BGCA). Let me first congratulate BGCA on its 80th anniversary and express on behalf of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government our deepest appreciation to BGCA for its enduring efforts in nurturing and supporting children and youth over the past eight decades. On a personal basis, I wish to add my gratitude to the Association for the trust and partnership I valued so much during my tenure as the Director of Social Welfare more than a decade ago.
Let me also extend my sincere thanks to BGCA and the Department of Social Work of the Chinese University of Hong Kong for co-organising this Conference. To our distinguished speakers, Professor Heckman and Dr Pawelski, and friends who are joining us from abroad, I offer you my heartfelt welcome to Hong Kong and wish you a very pleasant stay in this Asia's world city.
The theme of this Scientific Conference - "Invest in Our Young for a Brighter Tomorrow" - is an evergreen topic and is always very close to my heart. As the title of this Conference suggests, there is indeed a lot of science involved in devising effective and innovative approaches and services to ensure the well-being of our younger generation. The experience sharing and evidence-based discussions over the next two days will no doubt equip and inspire our youth workers with deeper knowledge to provide better service.
Young people are our future. The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has all along been committed to nurturing our younger generations. Our investment in young people starts from the day they were born.
We firmly believe that good health is fundamental to a child's development. The Department of Health provides a comprehensive suite of healthcare services from birth to adolescence to ensure our children's physical and mental health are well looked after. We also support parents-to-be by means of parenting programmes to equip parents with the necessary knowledge and skills to raise happy and healthy children.
We invest heavily in the education of our children. Accounting for about 21.5 per cent of the total government recurrent expenditure, education tops all the policy areas. The Government provides 12 years' free and universal primary and secondary education to all children attending public sector schools. Starting from the 2017 school year, we will extend that to 15 years by implementing the Free Quality Kindergarten Education policy, providing three-year half-day kindergarten education free for all eligible children. Under the policy, we will enhance the quality of education to kindergarten students by improving the teacher-to-pupil ratio so as to allow teachers to better focus on the individual needs of our children.
For children with special education needs, we fully understand the importance of timely identification and early intervention. In this respect, I am pleased to say that through concerted efforts of the health, education and welfare agencies and departments, we have rolled out a significant pilot scheme to provide on-site pre-school rehabilitation services at kindergartens and kindergarten-cum-child care centres last year. This two-year scheme is well-received by parents, schools and the involved professionals, and some HK$400 million annually recurrent expenditure has been set aside to operate this service on a permanent basis after the pilot scheme, with an ambitious target of reducing the children's waiting time for such rehabilitation services to zero.
Beyond the education sector, the Government invests in a wide range of services to help nurture young people and meet their special needs. These include school social work services and integrated children and youth service centres under the Labour and Welfare Bureau; youth development services including student exchange and internship programmes, uniformed services as well as youth enterprises and youth hostels under the Home Affairs Bureau and anti-drug programmes and Junior Police Call activities under the Security Bureau. Indeed, in line with the emphasis placed on young people by this term of the HKSAR Government, we are encouraging various bureaux and departments to play a part by offering internships for young people and serving as mentors beyond their core duties. I must say that in all these endeavours, NGOs including BGCA are our most valued partners.
We recognise that the transition from study to work could be a challenge for many young people and at the beginning of this term of Government, we have enhanced our investment in making life planning an integral part of education. The Education Bureau has been actively promoting "Life Planning Education" in senior secondary schools to encourage students to set goals, realise their potential, and plan their careers. The Government is also committed to providing our young people quality and diversified study pathways with multiple entry and exit points, enabling them to unleash their full potential in accordance with their interests, aptitudes and abilities. Through the parallel development of publicly funded and self-financing higher or post-secondary education institutions, over 46 per cent of our young people in the age cohort of 18 to 20 now have access to degree-level education. Apart from higher education programmes, there is also a wide range of vocational and professional education and training programmes, ranging from technician level to Bachelor's degree programmes, in order to meet the development needs of our younger generation and prepare them with the skills, attitude and knowledge required for achieving their career goals.
Despite this extensive investment and the general affluence of our city, it would be complacent for me to say that all is well and fine. Conditions facing our younger generation have changed, and parents and youth workers are confronted with more challenges in helping children attain well-balanced moral, intellectual, physical, social and aesthetic development, which is one of the objects of BGCA. These challenges consist of: first of all, changes in the family structure. Many children in Hong Kong are now living in one-child families and single-parent families. Our local fertility rates are one of the lowest in the world and our divorce rates are growing. Our education system is, many would say, too exam-oriented and overly competitive, resulting in the phenomenon of a booming private tutorial business. And the extensive exposure to the social media has changed the patterns of communication and undermined human interactions which are important for building bonds and friendship. These are problems that could not be addressed by just investing more money.
As a mother of two, I tell from experience, and quite a rewarding one, that investing time, attention and patience in children is crucially important to their upbringing. In their formative years, no one is better than the mum and the dad to help them develop decency and manners, respect diversity, cultivate independent thinking and pursue their goals in life. Solid foundation has to be laid for them to become responsible and contributing citizens. I know that nurturing children and youth to be contributing citizens is another object of BGCA. I realise that with an aim to encourage children's social participation, BGCA used to run a programme called the Junior Chief Executive and the Junior Financial Secretary. Perhaps BGCA may wish to add to it a Junior Legislative Council (LegCo) Member component as we are now seeing at least a couple of newly elected LegCo Members who are really young - the age of my two sons! I have told myself that although we are talking about political participation, the same advice that I have just tendered that we should invest more time, attention and patience in these newly elected young LegCo Members is probably worth trying in order to cultivate a positive relationship to better serve the community.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the past 80 years, BGCA has been faithfully driving its mission, which is "Nurture the Young Create the Future". I would like to take this opportunity to extend to all dedicated youth workers in BGCA the Government's appreciation of your commitment to promote the well-being of children and youth in Hong Kong.
Let me end by wishing this Conference a great success, and all of you a most rewarding day ahead.
Thank you very much.
Ends/Friday, October 7, 2016
Issued at HKT 11:55
Issued at HKT 11:55