Generation 40s – 四十世代

Good articles for buddies

Leave a comment

Hong Kong’s young democracy campaigners risk losing sight of the real changes needed in society

Anson Au says democracy is just another form of government, far from perfect and equally prone to ideological excess. Instead of chasing universal suffrage, Hong Kong needs to negotiate the best way forward to create a better society

The past couple of weeks have seen a resurgence in the push for democracy among youth in Hong Kong. Zealous cries for a new order have filled the air once more, in the wake of the anniversary on September 28 of Occupy Central, which ignited massive dissent among thousands of youth bound to the vision of democracy.

And just two weeks ago, former governor Chris Patten concluded his four-day visit by rallying Hongkongers to the pursuit of democracy and urging Beijing to consent.

Joined by a host of global media outlets, these sentiments betray a belief in the inherent good of ­democracy – but overlook the purpose of governance itself.

We must stay grounded. ­Democracy, as with all forms of governance, is but a means to an end – which is the establishment of a good society. My research explores what constitutes a good society and what can destroy it, and it shows that the answers don’t lie in any one form of governance.

We must separate ideology from practicality in the context of governance for a good society. As history tells us, it’s when we fail to do so that a society moves to atrocious ­extremes.

First, democracy is not without its dark side. Whereas popular belief holds that it’s inherently good, political research uncovers the ­uncomfortable truth that this isn’t the case. Democracy is not built upon the premise of bringing about “the most good for the majority”. Rather, it’s structured upon “the most good decided by the majority”.

Both modern history and the ­recent past have witnessed atrocities willed into being by the majority of a given society. Minorities in a populace often belong to economically impoverished and politically marginalised categories. As such, they possess significantly less ability to resist convenient and swift suppression by a hostile, intolerant majority. In Yugoslavia, they were the Bosnian Muslims and Croats, popularly hated minorities unable to resist violence by Serb militants.

In the days leading up to the establishment of Nazi Germany, they were the already stigmatised Jews, homosexuals, elderly and disabled – powerless to resist oppression, arrest and cleansing by a regime that channelled, rather than moderated, ideological hatred among the majority.

In Rwanda, they were the Tutsi and moderate Hutu leaders, defenceless against the anti-Tutsi radicalism washing over the Hutu state. The result was the infamous Rwandan genocide, whose ghosts still haunt the nation and human rights committees the world over. When organised by the majority alone, the state becomes a voice for the majority alone – rather than moderate hateful sentiments harboured by the majority, it channels them.

Strongman ­tyrants can ascend to power in democracies by capitalising on ideological fervour and insecurities among the majority. We need not look very far into history: the broad, recent rise of the far right across Europe and America prove the contemporary relevance of this admonition.

Both Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France championed, to great success, Islamophobia and the rejection of refugees in appealing to lower- and middle-class xenophobia. They were only narrowly beaten by more moderate candidates.

In the UK, Brexit attracted popular support, despite the economic disasters that pundits confirmed it would bring. On the ill-informed, misleading platform that Britain could accrue more capital outside the European Union, Brexit succeeded in convincing a majority more invested in nationalism than practicality. And most recently, Donald Trump rose to the White House by targeting immigrants and trumpeting the purge of big money from governance. Manipulated for their insecurities with employment, a majority rallied behind his claims, despite his very apparent financial conflicts of interest.

Second, Hong Kong is seeing divisions between the young and old. Young adults have lashed out against older citizens for retreating from the push for democracy, ­accusing them of political apathy, or worse, treason against Hong Kong society. But difference should beget discussion, not exclusion.

The legacy of Occupy Central has been … distorted into ideological fervour among youth

Incendiary reactions to difference show how the legacy of Occupy Central has been an improved consciousness of democracy, but distorted into ideological fervour among youth not unlike that of the Red Guard and other cross-national cases in world history. The convergences evoke historical memories of very real dangers.

In China, the Red Guards turned over their families, peers, teachers and schools to state punishment. In Cambodia, French-trained cadres led by Pol Pot swept the country with party purges and fratricides for a modernised, agrarian society.

Both cases show what happens when a country’s young ideologues rally behind a mode of governance for its own sake. Families are divided; the younger and older generations are split; unrest and violence ensue. Institutions embodying tradition are destroyed, and evidence-based assessments of what’s good for society are abandoned. Uprooting a plant always pulls up with it soil, grass, and living creatures. What does a heavy-handed democratic revolution threaten to uproot – policies, relations, institutions – along with the existing mode of governance? What will fill the gaping hole left in the earth afterwards? Who will benefit?

What does a heavy-handed democratic revolution threaten to uproot along with the existing mode of governance?

Third, stop focusing on democracy. Democracy, as with any governance, is only a means to an end. Thinking otherwise gives rise to ideological sentiments with disastrous consequences, as historical precedents have shown.

Furthermore, it distracts us from discussing the changes, the actual fruits of governance, that we want to see. Affordable housing; more ­resources for health services; a better old-age living allowance.

The calls for universal suffrage fail to address how any such issues or policies would be improved.

Real, positive change can only happen in Hong Kong by negotiating at the table, not by overturning it and attempting to build a new one; by engaging with actual policies and relations, instead of an abstract “fight”; by discussing the real, concrete needs of Hong Kong citizens, more than ideals written by a few on paper. We must forego visions of governance motivated by ideology to see the ends, rather than the means, in order to build a better society and prevent disaster.

I do not blame ethnic majorities for extreme crises. Ethnic majorities do not create extreme crises, but they can empower the ones who do: ranging from the endorsement of right-wing fascism to platforms that literally fracture nations.

Democracy claims to benefit all of society, but so does virtually every other mode of governance – what matters is how it is brought to effect.

A system lives for the people – not the other way around. We must refocus on the practical consequences of governance itself.

As Nelson Mandela – at a widely televised New York town hall in 1990 with American news anchor Ted Koppel – said in response to a question about the type of economy he envisioned for South Africa: “We are not concerned with models. We are not concerned with labels. We are practical men and women whose solutions are dictated by the actual conditions existing in our country. It does not matter whether the cat is black or white – so long as it can catch mice.”

Anson Au is a visiting researcher in the Department of Sociology at the Hong Kong Baptist University and a research officer at the LSE Health and Social Care and Department of Social Policy (joint) at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


Leave a comment

Why can’t Chinese graduates speak good English? Blame the teaching methods

South China Morning Post
CommentInsight & Opinion

Philip Yeung

Philip Yeung says English-language proficiency will only improve when teachers look past rote memorisation and encourage students to learn how to learn

The Chinese have a love-hate relationship with English. It is the “language of opportunity” – the passport to a coveted overseas education, a well-paid job or foreign citizenship. Zhang Lu, the photogenic English-speaking interpreter for top leaders, is mobbed everywhere she goes, while state interpreters of other languages remain obscure.

But despite its prestige, English is taught unimaginatively on the mainland. Students there say the only significant learning occurs in the first three years of junior secondary, the final three years of high school having been hijacked by endless drills for college entrance exams.

English is mandatory in the first two years in a Chinese university. But the language is taught bookishly, short on functional skills. College graduation calls for CET (College English Test) level 4 or 6 standards. But employers complain that few graduates are prepared even for the simple tasks of writing or responding to an English email or answering business phone calls, much less conducting trade negotiations with foreign clients. There is talk of dropping English from the required curriculum in some jurisdictions.

What has gone wrong? First, there is a singular lack of method. The basic approach is backward – memorising individual vocabulary words and incomprehensible grammar rules. Any effective approach must address two questions: first, how is it that you can understand every word in an English sentence and yet fail to understand its overall meaning? Second, after attaining basic proficiency, why is further progress in English elusive, however hard you study? This is true of many Chinese scholars who return home after decades in the US.

As long as English teaching is hitched to rote learning, Chinese students are denied the chance to “learn how to learn,” or sensitivity training in “pattern recognition”, especially necessary in developing writing skills. It has been said that native speakers, unlike non-natives, learn by “subconscious” acquisition, but I know that students can be taught “subconscious” learning once they acquire pattern recognition.

Each year, nearly half a million Chinese students go abroad. China may be the world’s second-largest economy, but Indian nationals vastly outnumber the Chinese in leading Fortune 500 companies or American universities. China lacks the soft power of English communication. This challenge should not be left to cram schools or tutorial centres, as being exam-savvy doesn’t translate into functionality. English teaching must be reimagined to prepare our people for global citizenship and leadership.

Philip Yeung is a former speechwriter to the president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Leave a comment




青年整體工資增 按教育程度比較則下降


不過當按教育程度比較,青年工資收入顯著下降,而不按教育程度分組比較,下跌幅度則輕微得多甚至反而上升,在統計學中這個結果就是一個「辛普森悖論」(Simpson’s Paradox)。其基本含義是,兩個變量(在這裏是工資與年份)之間在不同分組裏皆有相同方向的關係;但在不作分組的時候,兩個變量的關係卻可以大大減弱、消失甚至相反。統計學家認為這個現象的主要原因,是因為有第三個(或第四個)變項在影響兩者之關係。而這裏就是組別構成的變化。









以數據闡釋 須注意會否呈現片面「現實」





Leave a comment






筆者相信,海外升學並非為了「解決」目前的問題,而應該有更正面的目的。一般而言,家長都希望藉此建立學生的自信,擴闊視野,令學生更獨立等。但是,除了學習上的考慮,學生身心的發展、情緒的依賴、成長的需要亦十分重要。十來歲的青少年最需要家人的陪伴和意見,年紀太小的初中學生往外地讀書,可能令他們在最需要家人陪伴的歲月,只能依賴當地的老師和同學,長遠而言,他們的「重要的他人」(Significant Others)不再是父母,日後與家人的關係也許會變得疏遠。畢竟,前赴海外升學是家庭的重大決定,對尚在青春期的孩子來說,更可能是改變一生的抉擇,家長和學生都要在充分知情之下,共同商討,才作決定。


筆者兩名子女分別就讀高小和初中, 個人建議,即使負笈海外,較理想是在香港完成中學課程後,才到海外升讀大學。完成中六後,他們的中、英語文能力已有一定水平,又已掌握數學能力、邏輯思維和思辨能力,加上情緒和身心已發展成熟,更適合海外升學。

事實上,就經濟合作暨發展組織(簡稱「經合組織」)比較 2015年和2020年的人才應該擁有十項特質,其中兩次均高踞榜首的是Complex Problem Solving (面對複雜問題的解難能力)。既然如此,家長送子女到海外升學,不妨重點訓練子女這種特質,不要替他們安排和張羅太多,不要給他們太充裕的金錢和物質,亦不必急於讓他們每逢長假期便回港。相反,讓子女在海外「捱點苦」,長假期留在當地,讓他們多了解當地文化,如果當地准許學生在課餘工作,讓他們自力更生,用勞力賺取生活費。這樣,他們在幾年間獲得的,或許會更多,亦不致糟蹋了海外留學的獨特價值。

提到海外升學,一般人都會想到英、 美、澳、紐、加,但這些地方的學費和生活費實在不是一個小數目。筆者任教學校的學生大多數家境一般,但不少學生仍嚮往到海外升學,放眼世界,提升自己的全球競爭力(Global Competence),卻總覺得是無法達到的目標。因此筆者近年到訪過一些亞洲區的大學,替學生探索其他海外升學點,在此亦向讀者簡單介紹一下其特色。



近年「韓風」成為主流,因此往韓國升學的念頭亦開始在學生之間萌芽。現時到韓國升學的香港中學畢業生不多,主要是語言問題。事實上,不少韓國大學都有語言中心,香港的中六畢業生可先到韓國的大學修讀一年韓語課程,考獲TOPIK (「韓語能力檢定」Test of Proficiency in Korean)第三級,便可於韓國修讀學士學位課程。相對台灣,往韓國升學的文化衝擊較大,但亦因此感覺較國際化。每年的學費和生活費大約10萬港元,相比其他熱門升學國家較便宜。韓國不少著名大學都有國際課程,即是課程的70%至100%英語授課,香港學生在這方面有優勢。


根據世界經濟論壇(World Economic Forum)在2016年所發表的報告「The Future of Jobs」提出,不少行業現時最缺人的職位,其實在5至10年前,根本從未出現過。對於現時在學的少年人來說,有65%日後將會從事尚未出現的新工種。因此,我們的教育並非是「職業工廠」,替學生配對職業,而是要讓他們掌握將來社會需要的能力。「生涯規劃」關注的,並不局限於「事業」,無論在香港或海外升學,我們都希望幫助年輕人在步向成年人的生活模式時,明瞭自己不同的人生角色,因而承擔不同的責任,又規劃自己的興趣和閒暇,並讓他們掌握將來的世界需要的能力,讓他們在往後數十年的人生,選擇適合自己的生活方式,在不同的領域發揮所長,綻放光芒。


Leave a comment

Students benefiting from degree subsidy must remember their debt to Hong Kong society

South China Morning Post
Insight & Opinion

Kerry Kennedy says self-financed undergraduate students and their institutions who accept this largesse should also understand their obligation to give back to society after they graduate

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor delivered on her election promise to support the education sector by providing self-financed undergraduate students with a HK$30,000 subsidy. Even the usually recalcitrant Legislative Council begrudgingly supported the initiative so that funds could flow in this financial year.

It was a quick and early victory for Hong Kong’s new leader and showed her seriousness both in supporting education and keeping promises. But is it money well spent, both for the recipients and for the government?

Students will not actually see the money – it will be deducted from their tuition fee, then the institution will be reimbursed. Also, it is not open to all students – only those who achieved a minimum standard of Level 3 in Chinese and English and Level 2 in maths and liberal studies, or those who already have an associate degree and are enrolled in undergraduate programmes.

Thus, those who have enrolled in an associate degree programme miss out, as do ethnic minority students who have not studied Chinese, and self-financed students in University Grants Committee-funded universities. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that both students and their families, as well as the eligible institutions, are grateful for the support. The subsidy may attract more students at a time of low enrolment in the private education sector.

Since it is an annual subsidy, the support will be appreciated although actual fees are hefty, often more than HK$300,000 over a four-year period. Students from families that are not well off can benefit from both the subsidy, which is not means-tested, and support from the Student Finance Office, which is means-tested.

Overall, from both a student and an institutional perspective, the subsidy may well make an important difference to the point of encouraging some students and their families who otherwise may not have a chance to move upward.

There has been some criticism that graduates of self-financed programmes may not get jobs at the end. There is little evidence for this point of view, and Hong Kong’s unemployment rate at 3.2 per cent and underemployment at 1.2 per cent suggest that there is not a great deal of wastage in the system.

There may be complaints about salaries, mobility, housing and numerous other things but actual employment does not seem to be an area for complaint. In any event, the days of rigid human resource planning on a territory-wide scale are surely at an end, with new jobs emerging, new industries developing and new opportunities opening up both regionally and internationally. Yet this context itself requires a note of caution on self-financed education.

The focus of self-financed undergraduate education must be on producing high-quality graduates. Such graduates must not only be able to meet market needs but also be capable of problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork and entrepreneurship.

In all likelihood, today’s graduates may have six or seven careers in a lifetime and they must be ready to take them up and contribute in as many ways as possible. If such graduates come out of self-financed programmes, then the public invest­ment will be justified.

This is the responsibility of the private institutions and it is one that needs to be closely monitored. Public money must result in a public good, otherwise it will be wasted.

Some economists have made the point that a community’s aggregate skill levels can predict economic growth. Thus, the higher the average skill level, the more likely it is to stimulate the economy. It may well be that, in societies such as Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, the rapid growth of educational opportunities in the 20th century propelled each along very significant growth trajectories.

If private education institutions in the 21st century can produce high-quality graduates capable of grappling with social and economic issues, then this can only add to Hong Kong’s aggregate skill level. The more skilful our society, the more likely it is to be successful, and this will be a benefit to everyone, not just the graduates or their institutions.

In the end, the issue to consider when assessing the benefits of the new subsidy scheme is whether there are sufficient public benefits to warrant the investment.

A Star Ferry sails in Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. If private education institutions can produce high-quality graduates, it will add to Hong Kong’s aggregate skills, and this will be a benefit to everyone, not just the graduates or their institutions. Photo: Reuters

It is generally accepted that the returns on any investment in higher education are more likely to be private than public and this provides the rationale for university students paying fees: they are the ones who will benefit most from their qualifications in terms of higher incomes over the course of a lifetime. Therefore, it is argued, it is only fair that they contribute to this personal outcome.

But graduates must also contribute to society, either in terms of their actual profession, or in other ways, in order to justify public investment. Students and their institutions accepting the subsidy must remember this.

Students will need to consider how they can contribute to the public good and institutions will need to look beyond their business plans to the obligations they will have to society at large. There is no such thing as a free subsidy!

Professor Kerry Kennedy is adviser (academic development) at the Education University of Hong Kong