Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Help improve Hong Kong education instead of choosing the exit option

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South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says the crisis of confidence in Hong Kong education can be overcome as long as we’re willing to meet the problems head-on

I’m tired of losing my best students to US and British boarding schools. I’m tired of losing good friends to Singapore or other countries. I’m tired of reading headlines warning that Hong Kong is not the place to be any more or isn’t innovative enough. It’s time to reverse the trend.

Ten years ago, when I decided to come back to Asia to start my writing school, I chose Hong Kong for a reason: the freedom of speech, stellar work ethic, can-do spirit, business efficiency, safe streets, and a clean and straightforward legal system. I’m glad I chose Hong Kong and I would do the same again today. The difference is, though, that, today, some of these core values are being eroded, while pressing concerns, like pollution, lack of adequate housing and access to quality education, are on the rise.

The crisis in confidence when it comes to our schools is a worrying trend. Every parent, whether their child is in an international or local school, is concerned that their child is not learning the skills that will prepare him or her for higher education or workplace success.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Learning Curve 2014”, a report released last week by education services company Pearson, these skills are no longer just the three Rs – reading, writing and arithmetic. They are also skills like communication, leadership, emotional intelligence, teamwork, entrepreneurship, global citizenship and problem solving.

On the surface, it may look like we’re doing well because Hong Kong consistently dominates global tests. But that’s largely the result of our exam-obsessed culture. Many of my students say they rarely get the chance to develop real leadership, problem-solving and critical thinking skills in school, let alone global citizenship and entrepreneurship.

We can’t just run away from our problems. Putting up with our schools for primary education and then sending children off to boarding school, as many are now doing, is not a solution for everyone.

If we have real problems and concerns about our education system – whether it’s a lack of quality teachers, skyrocketing fees, a curriculum we don’t agree with, or expansion plans that don’t make sense – it’s our duty as parents to take it up with the schools.

Similarly, we need to look seriously at our workplace. Skills like teamwork, leadership and creativity that inspire kids in school also inspire employees. An annual survey by consultancy firm ECA International shows that, for the first time, it’s cheaper for multinational firms to send expat staff here than to the mainland. Let’s capitalise on that and make Hong Kong an innovative, interesting and stimulating place to work. The US greatly benefits from having access to a wide pool of immigrant talent. There’s no reason why we can’t follow suit.

I love Hong Kong and will continue to serve it, defend it and promote it until I am old and grey. I still believe the city has everything it takes to lead Asia. But Hong Kong won’t have a fighting chance if its people don’t keep fighting for it.

Kelly Yang is the founder of The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school programme for children in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.


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