Generation 40s – 四十世代

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脫貧路漫長 高教縮差距

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2017-03-11

何偉倫

究竟,貧窮是什麼呢?如果要推本溯源,引發貧窮問題似乎是由一系列錯綜複雜的因素導致。顯而易見,絕對不會是三言兩語可以交代清楚。所謂的脫貧則是一條漫長道路,教育彷彿是其中一個最有影響力的途徑,讓莘莘學子能夠有向上流動的機會。然而,坊間卻出現發人省思的問題──香港教育制度是否依然能夠作為向上流動的階梯呢?

近年,我們不難發現當今的年輕群組成長後,好像較上一兩個世代的年輕人更憤世嫉俗。作為一個新生代的一分子,積極參與社會及政治活動,以及表達對社會制度的不滿,似乎是無可厚非的。尤其是我們明白到青少年終究會對本港社會穩定性和政治發展的道路上,發揮中流砥柱的作用。然而,值得一提的問題是,近年年輕人起了的變化並非單單是本地問題。觀乎鄰近地區,即使我們曾經發生過佔領事件,在權衡輕重之間,刻下年輕人的反動意識似乎仍然算是相當克制。為什麼年輕人會反動呢?如果他們對自己的將來有一定的願景,又會否有截然不同的趨向呢?有為數不少的研究指出,資本及勞力是政經社發展的重要因素。只是,政經社的發展過程中有一些因素必須由下而上作出推動才能夠取得成就,教育則是當中的佼佼者。無可否認,教育投資能夠大幅度地改善人力質素,對經濟發展有着正向的影響。

在眾多的教育環節中,尤其以大學教育對一個人成年後經濟地位的改變,所產生的正面能量最為明顯及受到重視。接受大學教育對一個人未來的身價影響很大,只是要想提高自己的經濟地位其實非常困難。然而,倘若能夠考上大學,則個人的身價便可以提高,而且其牽引出來的可能性就可以倍加。

早年,香港教育大學的一項研究發現香港的大學學額即使已經持續增加,只是貧苦家庭子女接受大學教育的機會,反而相對於富裕家庭的子女,更有明顯差距。不堪的是,差幅似乎日益擴大。

一直以來,我們都深信教育是改善階層流動的最有效途徑,只是因為各種不同的因素導致教育未能真正地發揮應有的脫貧功用。值得留意的是,隨着近年學歷貶值愈趨嚴重,社會上已經出現了一些聲音,他們開始質疑到底教育是製造貧窮還是解決貧窮。尤其是近年的社會研究均指出,完成一個學位課程的回報率,似乎及不上早一點投身社會的影響……

成立於1916年,總部位於華盛頓特區智庫布魯金斯研究所(Brookings Institution)是華盛頓學術界的主流思想庫之一,他們曾經就教育是否能夠改變美國貧窮家庭的政經地位進行《向前還是落後:在美國改變人生的機會》(Getting Ahead or Losing Ground: Mobility in America)的研究。研究結果發現,貧窮家庭子女的政經地位沒有顯著的改變,其研究結果與剛才提到的香港教育大學的結論頗具類近性;原來海外社區都出現了富裕家庭子女在接受高等教育方面的機會及選擇權,相對於貧窮家庭存在愈來愈大的差距。

高樓價怨氣

其實年輕人對求學充滿熱忱是一個值得慶幸的事情, 只是高等教育學額數目的增長,似乎未能及時追上高等教育學額的需求,再加上不同的社會問題,諸如樓價高企令年輕人走上街頭抗爭。比方說,以往面對樓價的飛升,年輕人或許只有「買不起就算了」的心態。可惜的是,單純以樓價的瘋狂發展而言,已經不只「買不起」,而是「租也租不到」,因而怨氣日深。

部分年輕人甚至情願長期「炒散」,也不希望找到一份收入穩定、有晉升機會的工作,因為他們情願保持低薪一族的身份,以便留在輪候公屋的名單之上。筆者曾經在一個研究工作的訪談部分中,認識一位畢業於專業範疇的空中服務員,他情願每個月替更三數次,也不願意投入全職部隊。最為令人咋舌的是,這位空中服務員的家人及朋友也認同和理解這樣的決定。

我們當然不可能歸咎於政府政策,因為樓價飛升某程度和全球性的經濟發展有着不可分割的關係。只是,雖然政府無法扭轉這種令人透不過氣的社經轉型趨勢,又是否可以檢討一下現行的制度及政策,務求以人為本和訂定明確的規劃,以回應年輕人對未來不穩性的不安感呢?

試想像,當政府願意在年輕人修畢高等教育課程的一定年期後,願意把一定份額的學費回撥予他們作為置業基金,將會是一個多麼振奮人心的動力。再者,為針對年輕族群的散漫心態,以及鼓勵他們盡早投入社會服務,不至於浪費從學術旅程中所汲取的知識及技能,政府當局亦可考慮一些鼓勵性的措施,諸如當年輕人在投身社會後所需要繳交的薪俸稅愈多,政府部門則回撥更高百分比的金額,用以鼓勵年輕人更積極的投身社會,相信很大程度上能夠改變年輕人對未來出路的消極態度。

然而,政府在實施此等措施之前,也必須顧及部分弱勢族群。比方說,大部申請專上課程學費補助減免及貸款的申請人皆來自弱勢社群,他們在過去所得到的教育資源,以至文化培養,已被富裕家庭比下去,在學術上的能力及適應性也有一定的差距,因為不同原因休學、退學的人數明顯較多。相對於部分學子在中途休學後,能夠在父幹的影響下即時投身其他課程,較為處於弱勢的群組則需要先解決如何退回補助……

由此可見,脫貧路漫長,高等教育的機會固然可以縮減差距;只是真締還是在於一個完善的全方位補助方案。

撰文:何偉倫
香港高等教育科技學院語文及通識教育學院特任導師、新力量網絡研究員


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Having a helper leaves Hong Kong’s young lazy and spoilt

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-07-04

Peter Kammerer

Peter Kammerer says depending on helpers for daily living well into adulthood renders Hongkongers averse to hardship, unable to think for themselves and lacking basic life skills

The 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China raised all sorts of issues, among them whether our city has lost its edge. The conclusion seems to be yes – that we’re gradually falling behind competitors in virtually every area.

There was even a suggestion that our famed entrepreneurial spirit was disappearing, and questions were asked as to why. It’s a complicated subject with rent, education and parental ambitions for children at play, but I’d also wager that part of the problem is because we have too many maids.

Foreign domestic helpers aren’t to blame for the decline of shipping, universities slipping down rankings and Shenzhen lording it over us with innovations and hi-tech industries.

But my argument is less about advantage than laziness. Rather than coming up with solutions to our problems, we’re increasingly expecting others to fix them for us. Younger generations, like the millennials, appear to want everything laid out for them, from cheap housing to the best jobs – all for minimal effort.

It’s easy to see why people aged between 18 and their mid-30s would think this way; many had or continue to have maids to take care of them.

Between the end of 1998 and 2015, the year for the latest statistics, the number of foreign domestic helpers almost doubled – from 180,000 to 340,380.

That’s a lot of youngsters who didn’t need to clean up after themselves, had someone cooking for them, getting them ready for and perhaps taking them to school, and to be on hand to cater for their every need.

They were spoilt as kids and many continue that way as adults.

I know of single people who have full-time maids to take care of them and their pets. A couple with a pre-teen son have decided to move back into the wife’s parents’ home while their helper is on vacation because the thought of taking care of the child, cleaning the flat and cooking is too daunting.

Those raised by maids are readily identifiable at the gym I go to; they ignore rules to return used towels to the front counter and instead drop them on the changing room floor.

In the weights area, heavy plates are left either on the floor or attached to bars, rather than being put back in racks, posing a danger to other users. The toilets are left in a mess.

Helpers are an integral part of the Hong Kong government’s growth strategy. They enable both parents to work and provide care for children and the elderly. As a result, their wages are kept artificially low and exempt from minimum wage requirements.

With the typical Hongkonger earning about HK$15,800 a month, many working couples can easily afford the HK$4,310 salary.

But the influx of maids, at present increasing annually by about 10,000, has a litany of drawbacks.

The government is not under pressure to expand or improve child and elderly care services. Helpers may not be adequately trained to take care of a wheelchair-bound or bedridden person.

Sundays are a popular day for employers to give their maids their weekly day off, which means public places are overcrowded. And then, there is the reliance of families on their helpers to the point that they no longer have basic life skills.

Lazy people don’t necessarily have lazy minds; studies have found they’re often the intelligent ones and have figured how to get by with minimal effort.

But avoiding hard work and expecting something for nothing doesn’t teach us important lessons like success and failure, and finding solutions to problems.

Helpers free us up from what some people would consider the mundane, but the extra time is only worthwhile if put to constructive use.

Judging by our flat economic growth, reluctance to break away from businesses that are fading, and jump on opportunities offered by the Hong Kong and Beijing governments and take a risk, we’re well on the way to losing the ability to think for ourselves.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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Inside the AI revolution that’s reshaping Chinese society

NewsChinaSociety
2017-06-29
Artificial intelligence, once a novelty, is now being applied in everyday life. From academia to business, government and the military, ambitious China is betting big on AI, raising US suspicions yet offering opportunities for collaboration

Seven-year-old Chen Jiahao has a problem sum he can’t solve and he can’t wait to get home from school to pose the question to his all-knowing maths tutor.

His tutor is amazing, the boy says. Just snap a photograph of the question and the tutor will provide every possible approach to solve the problem, step by step – all in a split second.

Jiahao’s tutor is inside his mother’s smartphone. It is, in fact, an app that draws on artificial intelligence (AI) technology to solve challenging maths problems for primary school children.

And it’s just one of many AI-enabled apps Jiahao uses daily on his mother’s phone. When the boy started primary school in Beijing, his teachers recommended that his parents install the apps on their phones. The software give out school assignments, grade pupils’ work and even generate unique sets of exercises for each child based on their areas of weakness.

“Jiahao likes his AI teachers,” said his mother, Yu Ting, adding that her son spends at least two hours on the AI apps every day. “He greets my phone as eagerly as he greets me.”

AI society

Jiahao’s story shows how AI is shaping modern Chinese society as the technology shifts slowly but surely from the realm of mere novelty towards common, everyday application.

On Chinese social media, video-sharing platforms and shopping sites, AI technology is already widely used to cater specifically to individual tastes and preferences.

For example, online news aggregator Toutiao provides a selection of articles tailored for its users based on information such as their age, gender and location. Video-streaming website iQiyi recommends programmes based on users’ search and viewing history.

Ali Xiaomi, the AI-powered customer service chatbot of tech giant Alibaba, which owns the South China Morning Post, can reply to a million text queries and takes thousands of phone calls from online shoppers every day. The use of AI has cut e-shops’ customer service costs by 90 per cent, according to Alibaba.

That’s not all. An AI traffic controller introduced on trial in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province last year eased vehicle flow on roads, allowing cars to pass at speeds of up to 11 per cent faster than usual, state-owned broadcaster China Radio International reported.

A missing man from Fujian province was reunited with his parents thanks to AI analysis of facial recognition data. Photo: Handout

In April, search giant Baidu’s AI system reunited a couple in Chongqing with their long-lost son. The machine analysed a photograph of the six-year-old boy, who went missing 27 years ago, and matched it to the face of a 33-year-old man in Fujian province, the Beijing Evening News reported. DNA tests confirmed the match.

What, exactly, is AI?

Popular culture, especially in the West, often either romanticises the notion of artificial intelligence – such as in the 2013 Hollywood film Her, in which a lonely man falls for his “female” AI operating system – or portrays it negatively, as in the hit US television series Westworld, where oppressed androids in an AI theme park turn murderous against their abusive human guests.

In reality, AI technology – at least in its current stage – is both less romantic and frightening, but its possibilities may be every bit as boundless as imagined in the movies.

AI refers to a computer software that mimics intelligent human behaviour. Creating such intelligent systems requires teaching machines to learn for themselves – an application of AI known as machine learning – rather than manually teaching them everything there is to know.

Machine learning involves feeding computer systems with large volumes of data and programming the systems to interpret the information for themselves through pattern recognition. The machines hence “learn” by calculating probabilities and drawing conclusions from patterns found in the data at its disposal.

A powerful form of machine learning is deep learning, which categorises information according to hierarchical layers of concepts. The arrangement allows systems to interpret complex data with greater flexibility, speed and accuracy.

“AI is like a child,” said Professor Feng Jufu, a machine learning scientist at Peking University’s school of electronics engineering and computer science. “The more people use it, the faster it learns. The more it learns, the faster it improves.”

United States’ rising rival

China, whose population of 1.38 billion people makes it the world’s biggest user base and data pool, is a “paradise” for machine learning technology, Feng said.

And the nation – from its computer scientists, tech businesses, the government and military – is exercising its competitive advantage.

For decades, AI initiatives have been launched and developed in the United States and the field dominated by American experts. But now, the balance appears to be tipping as China’s AI technology comes up neck and neck with that of the US.

There was no clearer demonstration of this shift than what occurred at the annual meeting of the world’s biggest AI research community this year.

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence rescheduled its yearly event in New Orleans, originally set in January, to the following month after finding out that the dates conflicted with China’s Lunar New Year holiday, The Atlantic magazine reported.

“Our organisation had to almost turn on a dime and change the conference venue to hold it a week later,” the association’s president Subbarao Kambhampati was quoted as saying.

The clash might not have mattered in the past, but with Chinese scientists now producing more research papers on deep learning than Americans, the meeting would have been pointless if the Chinese could not attend, according to the association.

An artificial intelligence backed by face recognition function which can used in mobile payment is demonstrated in Wuhen on Nov. 16, 2016. Photo: Simon Song

“The race is tight,” said Li Xiaowei, executive director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ State Key Laboratory of Computer Architecture in Beijing. China has only one main competitor – the US – and its goal was to beat its rival on the other side of the Pacific, he added.

Li said he and colleagues were developing computer chips, built specifically for machine learning, that would significantly boost the speed of an AI system, running “as fast as a car against a bicycle” compared with existing AI machines on traditional CPUs.

Chinese researchers have already developed AI chips with faster performance on specific tasks such as image recognition and natural language processing, but they still consumed more energy and tended to be less reliable than American-made chips, Li admitted.

Chinese ambitions

While US experts are still making most of the fundamental AI breakthroughs, this may soon change as Chinese tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, with access to the vast amounts of data needed for AI training through their millions of customers, inject massive investment into the technology, setting up their own AI research laboratories to create new products at a speed and scale never before seen in the West.

China was the world’s second biggest investor in AI enterprises last year, injecting US$2.6 billion into the sector, according to Chinese think tank the Wuzhen Institute. The US topped the list with US$17.9 billion.

Smaller firms aren’t passing up the chance to make a foray into AI either. This month, AI robots owned by two Chinese education-tech companies sat the maths section of the nation’s notoriously difficult college examinations.

Press gathered in Chengdu earlier this month as a robot sat the maths test for the national college entrance exam. Photo: Xinhua

One, which took the test in an isolated room at a technology park in Chengdu in Sichuan province, scored 70 per cent, spending about 20 minutes completing the questions. The other, which sat the test in Beijing and was connected to the internet, scored 90 per cent in less than 10 minutes. The second bot’s score was good enough to gain admission into China’s top universities.

“Artificial intelligence has undergone several waves of hype over the past decades, but this time it’s different. This time, it may really come alive,” said Feng, the Peking University academic.

Over in the public sector, the Chinese government has pinpointed AI as a key area for advancement in its latest five-year plan. Top technology official Wan Gang said in March a national development plan was being drafted that would see AI technology adopted in areas including “the economy, social welfare, environmental protection and national security”.

Last year, the Chinese government said it would create an AI market worth more than US$15 billion by 2018. Beijing has already sunk millions into studying AI in universities and research institutes around the nation. It is also already applying the technology across the full spectrum of governance.

Traffic authorities in the city of Jiaxing in Zhejiang province this month began using an AI coach in a driving school. The system monitors students’ driving behaviour and detects mistakes they make, instructing them through a speaker and rating their performance, the Jiaxing Daily reported. The passing rate of students who learned with the AI coach was 20 per cent higher than those who had human coaches.

Over in China’s most innovative city of Shenzhen in Guangdong province, the use of a tiny chip in public surveillance cameras has helped police crack hundreds of cases and find several lost children. The intelligent chip whittles down the speed of human facial recognition to just a few seconds.

And in Jiangsu province’s city of Nantong, an AI judge will be put into use later this year to organise and analyse legal documents and material as well as perform paper work to lighten the workload for human judges. The system is expected to speed up the handling of legal cases by 30 per cent, the Nantong Daily reported.

US suspicions (and collaboration)

China has also ventured into AI on the military front. The nation is developing cruise missiles with “a very high level of artificial intelligence and automation”, the China Daily quoted a senior missile designer as saying last August.

As the country’s AI capabilities grow, so have US suspicions. The Pentagon had concerns about Beijing’s access to US-developed AI technology, the Reuters news agency reported this month.

Citing a leaked document, the report said the US defence department recommended blocking Chinese organisations from investing in some American start-ups working on cutting-edge technologies. The report suggested Washington fears that its advanced algorithms might be re-purposed for Chinese military use.

Individual Chinese AI researchers might also have become a concern for the US government, according to Zhang Lijun, an associate professor of computer science with Nanjing University’s learning and mining from data group in Jiangsu province.

“Each time we go to the US for an academic conference, we encounter extensive background checks by the US embassy,” Zhang said. But if the US stopped issuing visas to Chinese AI scientists, the move would do as much damage to America as it would to China, he added.

Despite Washington’s concerns, American companies are still flocking to join hands with their Chinese counterparts in AI research given the sheer amount of funds injected into the industry. And the collaborations have seen considerable progress in the field.

In May, Google’s AlphaGo AI programme – developed to play the Chinese board game Go – defeated world champion Ke Jie in a series of three matches, all of which the machine won.

The strategy game, played on a 19×19 grid board with more permutations than the estimated number of atoms in the observable universe, was previously believed too sophisticated for the machine to handle. Scientists had predicted AI would take at least a decade to decisively conquer the game; the final match took less than four hours.

The same month, Microsoft’s Chinese-language chatbot Xiaoice published the world’s first collection of AI-authored poems in a book titled The Sunlight That Lost The Glass Window. The book caused a stir among China’s literary circle, with some poets hoping the technology would revive appreciation of the art. Pirated copies have already appeared on Chinese websites, reflecting interest in the book.

“The US is good at coming up with new ideas in fundamental research while China is good at implementing these ideas in applications. International collaboration has played a key role in the rapid development of AI technology in recent years,” Zhang at Nanjing University said.

The future

All these advancements are just the beginning of an AI revolution, according to the Peking University academic Feng.

“The only limit is your imagination,” he said, adding that AI technology could have even broader and deeper applications in people’s lives.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences’ expert Li concurred. The AI user experience of the future would be vastly different from today, as with software and hardware upgrades newer AI machines would become far faster and more human-like.

The collection of AI written poems, The Sunlight That Lost The Glass Window. Photo: Handout

For instance, Feng said, today’s exam taking robot could be developed into an exam-setting machine. Like AlphaGo considered permutations never conceived by human players in the past, the AI system could pose students challenging questions that would push them to achieve results beyond what they thought possible.

“If you can answer maths questions designed by machines, you should then be able to easily tackle questions designed by humans,” he said.

But Professor Li Qingan, an educational psychologist at Beijing Normal University, cautioned against the unregulated use of AI in schools.

“Artificial intelligence may create super students, but it can also turn them into cold-blooded creatures with little care for how others think and feel,” Li said. “Thirty years from now, we may regret giving our children over to AI.”

There is also a limit to AI systems, according to professor Huang Biqing, a robotics scientist with Tsinghua University.

“If human-generated data can no longer improve an AI system’s performance, the machine will treat it as noise,” Huang said, adding that this meant the system would regard human input as no longer necessary and could evolve based on its own machine-generated data.

Chen Yi, the father of Jiahao the primary schoolboy who loves his AI tutors, recalls his childhood addiction to Nintendo’s Game Boy as he observes his son interacting with the apps on his wife’s smartphone.

“This is different from my childhood addiction,” Chen said, referring to Jiahao’s attachment to the AI-enabled programmes. “Jiahao’s condition is more like, I don’t know, a kind of dependence?”


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失去靈魂的舍堂文化

信報財經新聞
教育講論
2017年6月24日

梁亦華

早前,香港大學接連發生性欺凌的醜聞。3月下旬,港大一名退選幹事遭同學按住,強行向其下體滴蠟。事發不久,李國賢堂亦傳出短片,另一男生遭按在床上,被同學以下體拍打頭部。欺凌事件震驚全港,校方隨即表示事件已交由「副校長領導的小組跟進調查」,並報警處理,聖約翰學院舍監亦發表聲明,指「不接受任何形式欺凌,學院對此持毫不含糊立場」……

表面看來,校方看似嚴肅處理事件,但事實上跟進結果是如何呢?據報道,校方對23名涉事者的裁決結果僅是「3人被取消宿位,19人被暫停入住宿舍,一人被書面警告」。在繼後訪問中,校長不痛不癢地回應:「(校方)希望從組織上的變革,避免不當行為發生……(校方)無意令學生停止他們已進行多年、覺得有意思的活動。」副校長則指即將9月推出非強制性網上預防性騷擾課程,而所謂課程則只是看短片,填寫回饋問卷,以作回應,而傳媒跟進亦到此而止,可是對教育工作者而言,這事件不禁令人反思:為何如此令人髮指的性欺凌,會出現在雲集全港頂尖精英的最高學府?新生營即將於暑假開始,社會和學校的回應與跟進,又能否預防類似事件再次發生?

法不施於尊者?

一直以來,每所學校多少也存在着青少年的欺凌行為,這些欺凌行為的原因很多。心理學的觀點認為,人們在潛意識中存在內心不安,性與暴力則是人們平衡心理衝突的重要媒介。對此,佛洛依德的心理分析學說已詳細詳述;社會學的觀點則認為,如此強制而不人道的性欺凌,只是洗腦儀式,而這往往涉及摧毀對方自尊心及其他防衞機制,旨在更好地嵌入舍堂文化。學者侃侃而談,都有道理,不過兩類觀點都有一共通點:性欺凌者是情有可原的。前者視性暴力為一種恢復心理正常的正當手段,加害者往往被嚴密家庭和學校監控,過度抑壓,無法處理內心充滿衝突「受害者」;後者則視他們為宿生身份建構的過程,加害者往往被描繪成過於盡責,「過火」而不自知的無辜搞手。

筆者並非心理學專家,對學者的理論亦無意否定,但站在教育工作者的角度,只想起特首年前的一句說話:「守法與犯法之間沒有灰色地帶」。如果被按在床上的受害人是女性,學校會否同樣以玩得「過火」輕輕帶過?如果這是一群無業青年當街鬧事,而非港大學生,社會又將如何報道?可見,社會大眾的處理方式並非視乎行為的本身,而是加害者與受害者的身份而定。一言蔽之,便是「刑不上大夫,法不施於尊者」,以及「男性不可能受到性欺凌」的偏執情結。

大學託兒所化

這是因為學生對性欺凌認知不足嗎?性教育課程能預防性欺凌問題嗎?在大學中,直接的暴力攻擊並不多見,更多出現的是社交排擠,又或取花名、嘲笑樣貌身材等為主的言語欺凌。近年關於青少年欺凌的心理研究指出,這並非因為欺凌者有一絲善心,而是因為施暴者會估計社會容忍的底線,了解師長通常低估這些行為的破壞性,一般不會作出干預而作的理性選擇。從這觀點看,犯事學生並非無知。相反,他對事後社會反應的預計其實相當準確。

再者,教授性教育是否大學的職責?據哈佛大學前校長Harry Lewis在其著作《失去靈魂的優秀》(Excellence Without a Soul)一書便指出,「愛」與「關懷」已佔據大學的價值觀中,而規範(Regulation)以及自我效能(Self-efficacy)則往往被擠到一旁,這直接令大學「託兒所化」,一些本應由家長進行的德育輔導(如性教育),逐漸成為大學的職責,而學生(包括加害者)均被視為「無力控制發生在自己身上的事」,如此職能和觀念,這實在是有違大學之道。

正如作家Eldridge Cleaver所言:「如你不是答案的一部分,便是問題的一部分」(You’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem)。各方的「冷處理」,到底是解決問題,還是製造與縱容問題?如果被按在床上的是閣下兒女,你還會覺得這23名犯事者只是「過火」而不自知,又或抱着憐憫之心,認同他們是無力處理內心衝突的「受害者」?

筆者認為,真正的教育並非對着一眾精英講解「何謂性騷擾行為及如何處理之認知」,而是幫助學生成長,灌輸學生為自己行為負責的思想。對加害者而言,比起吸取知識,也許他們更需要被教導如何當一個勇於承擔責任的成年人。

撰文:梁亦華
香港教育大學項目主任


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China’s belt and road can lead the world to a greener future

CommentInsight & Opinion
2017-06-15
Andrew Leung says the Paris climate accord is in tune with UN goals, which have much synergy with the vision of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, meaning China is well-placed to steer a global response to global warming

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the Paris Agreement on climate change, three questions of strategic import beg to be answered.

First, how will other large backers of the climate accord, like the EU, China, Japan and India, address the resultant deficit in financial and emission commitments?

Second, with financial assistance expected to be curtailed due to the US withdrawal, how can less-developed nations diversify from carbon-intensive development?

Third, what will be China’s role in all this as the world’s largest ­carbon emitter?

There is little doubt that the Paris Agreement, signed by 195 countries and ratified by 148, has won widespread support from both developed and developing countries. This outcome has been driven not only by looming climate change threats to security and livelihoods, but also by fast-growing green-economy businesses and their job-creation capacities.

It’s no wonder that American mayors, governors, academics and business leaders are rallying behind Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York, to submit a plan to the UN pledging to help the US to meet its Paris commitments, regardless of Trump.

Even with Paris pledges intact, some estimates put the planet on track for warming by 2.7 to 3.7 ­degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, well over the target limit of 2 degrees. Without federal regulatory and funding support, US emissions – a fifth of the global total – are ­expected to go down by only 15 to 19 per cent by 2025, against the pledged 23 to 28 per cent, over the 2005 baseline. The withdrawal of the United States, the second-largest carbon emitter and still the world’s largest economy in nominal terms, may trigger dire global ecological consequences.

Nevertheless, the US withdrawal may not be the beginning of the end of the planet. It could, for example, spur other signatories to redouble emission pledges. Under the Paris accord, the US cannot exit until ­November 4, 2020, the day after the next presidential election. However, the Trump administration has cancelled the outstanding US$2 billion of the US$3 billion pledged by America to a Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable smaller countries. This leadership vacuum in galvanising global responses to climate change demands imaginative responses from all other signatories.

The European Union and Japan are champions of green technologies and ecological sustainability, with their cities winning many green awards. They seem on track to fulfil their Paris pledges.

Relative late starters China and India are now exceeding their voluntary emission targets. China is ­investing more in renewable energy than any other nation, pledging a further US$360 billion by 2020. ­Experts now predict that China’s carbon emissions will peak, and then begin to decline, much earlier than its 2030 target. However, if only to avoid moral hazard, it is doubtful whether these large economies will want to pick up any American shortfall without a joint global effort.

Most of the Paris signatories are less-developed countries struggling to cope. Many face challenges of poverty, poor social and physical infrastructure, and a lack of capacity to diversify from an economy that is energy-dependent, with high carbon footprints. To rid themselves of the “resource curse”, many nations in Africa, for instance, have tried to diversify into upstream or downstream “linkage industries” – but few have succeeded.

Landlocked signatories from Central Asia with massive oil and gas reserves (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) or minerals (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) remain largely unable to capitalise on their resource wealth to broaden and upgrade their economies.

While governance and other ­institutional deficits remain an ­important barrier, expanded transport and infrastructure connectivity, both with regional neighbours and the broader world, will help boost their capacity for economic transformation and ability to cope with climate change.

The question, then, is whether China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, the largest single transcontinental infrastructure initiative the world has ever known, would be a timely boon or bane for global responses to climate change.

Many Western observers have cast doubt on the Chinese initiative. Some view it as a back door to export China’s excess capacity with very large carbon footprints. Others consider it a ploy to project China’s influence, if not dominance. Still others regard it as a reinforcement of China’s position as a global hub of the world’s supply and value chain.

Few consider its potential as an anchor for global responses to ­climate change.

Infrastructure projects and trade agreements signed under the belt and road already embody green objectives and provisions. After last month’s international Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, attended by more than 20 heads of state, the Chinese government wants to ensure the initiative is in line with its environmental goals.

This is stated in the national document, “Guiding Opinion on Promoting Construction of a Green ‘One Belt One Road’” – released on April 26. Among the principles listed are building an “ecological civilisation”, promoting global ­cooperation in a low-carbon economy, ecological conservation, technological ­exchange, law enforcement, effective management, green production, free finance and green consumerism.

It’s early days yet, but some green projects related to the belt and road are already taking shape. For example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the World Bank have co-financed a ­hydropower project in Pakistan to the tune of US$720 million, in support of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Most of the AIIB’s proposed belt and road projects for this year across Bangladesh, Indonesia and Kazakhstan involve ­renewable energy or an element of energy efficiency.

The Paris Agreement is in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals. These have much synergy with the belt and road plan, according to Aniket Shah, sustainable ­finance programme leader at the UN Sustainable ­Development Solutions Network. With closer ­coordination, and partnership with national and commercial funding institutions, further integration with the belt and road strategy will result in a new form of multilateralism, or “Globalisation 2.0”, in response to climate change.

So, while China is unwilling to take over America’s role as the world’s policeman, the country is likely to be more forthcoming in sharing leadership with a coalition of the willing, including active players such as the EU, in galvanising global support for the Paris Agreement. After all, blue skies and clean waters are part of the China Dream. For this, China is likely to use the belt and road for good measure.

Andrew K.P. Leung is an international and independent China strategist