Transforming Hong Kong into a city of innovation
Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering and Faculty of Architecture, University of Hong Kong
In the newly released 2019-20 Budget, Financial Secretary Paul Chan continued the government’s commitment to investing in I&T infrastructure, smart city elements and talent retention with over HK$45 billion. But there is a fundamental issue: Hong Kong itself does not have sufficient talent for the future economy.
Recently, Professor Lap-Chee Tsui pointed out that there is a gap in the supply of local, middle-level scientific researchers. Hong Kong must begin the process of cultivating this talent and cannot rely on researchers from overseas in the long run.
The talent we need
Three professors of the Department of Computer Science at the Carnegie Mellon University in the United States (ranked no.1 university in the U.S. for its artificial intelligence (AI) programmes) have recently published an article in the Harvard Business Review. They urged the U.S. government and educational institutes to prepare young people for a future in which AI would be more than just a tool; it would also be our working partner and “a ubiquitous part” of our lives as well.
They advocate for a change in the school curriculum. People in Hong Kong should also consider their suggestions.
First of all, learning to write computer programs (coding) and strengthening STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education are crucial as the world has become increasingly digital. Computer science is as vital in both the arts and science disciplines as writing and math.
Young people should also receive training in STEM and coding during different stages of primary and secondary schooling to meet future challenges. Their proposal is as follows:
· Kindergarten to primary education: Focus on problem-solving and collaboration skills. When designing an AI system, it is necessary to decompose a big problem into many smaller problems, and then integrate the solutions of them. Therefore, we must cultivate cooperation and problem-solving skills in students at an early stage. Inquiry-based or project-based learning is a good approach.
· Middle and high school: In addition to regular courses, elective programs such as robotics, computational math and computational art should be added to broaden students’ understanding and nurture their interest and talent in computer science or those who will need computer knowledge to enhance their skills in other fields.
· High school: Strengthening studies in math and computer science, such as statistics, probability, graph theory and logic, and more will be useful for future data-driven work. At the same time, the professors advocate placing less emphasis on conventional math, including advanced calculus.
Hong Kong’s educational future
The Hong Kong government also sees the need to nurture young peoples’ futures. As such, the government has planned to release a recurrent grant, Life-wide Learning Grant of HK$900 million to schools from the 2019/20 school year.
Schools around the world commonly face a severe shortage of teachers who are trained in computer science. Therefore, Hong Kong’s education authorities should set standards in coding, computer science and STEM education like subjects of math and language, and drive academic requirements on primary and secondary schools, including the content of textbooks and syllabi. This is crucial as those standards can then be used as guidelines for training professional teachers.
Israel incorporated coding in its regular curriculum more than 20 years ago, helping the country to become “Innovation Nation” today.
At the same time, it is necessary to strengthen students’ problem-solving ability. As 80% of data is related to location, fostering a sense of space can enhance their ability to connect with reality and broaden their horizons.
I have been encouraging our young people to learn coding and work in STEM-related professions. I hope that they will grow and add value to themselves, increasing the talent resource pool in Hong Kong. If more people can make good use of, manage, and develop innovative technologies, we can build our smart city in a more expeditious manner!
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