22 October 2016
We should expose our schoolchildren to computer learning at an early age to prepare them for the raging global tech boom. Photo: HKEJ
We should expose our schoolchildren to computer learning at an early age to prepare them for the raging global tech boom. Photo: HKEJ

How we can better prepare our kids for the digital future

Learning to write computer programs has become a growing trend among schoolchildren around the world.

To prepare our next generation for the raging global tech boom, I have been repeatedly calling on schools and parents to expose our kids to computer program writing at an early age.

The changes brought about by the internet revolution are touching basically every aspect of our lives today, and people who are digitally smart and innovative will be at a definite advantage in the job market.

In recent years, our government has been placing more and more emphasis on the development of new technologies and has pledged to build a “smart city” in Hong Kong.

It sounds as though the administration is determined to turn information technology into another economic pillar, but the problem is, are we going to have enough local IT talent to implement this ambitious plan?

Judging from the current situation in our schools, the answer is anything but reassuring.

So what has gone wrong with IT education in our schools?

Apart from uneven teacher quality and the lack of funding for some schools to upgrade their computer hardware, another, bigger problem facing our schools is the fact that their information and communications technology (ICT) curricula have failed to keep up with the times.

As a result the ICT curricula in our primary and secondary schools are not matched with each other as they are supposed to be, and there are simply not enough ICT lesson hours in our secondary schools.

To make matters worse, in order to make more time to prepare for the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examinations, many secondary school pupils simply drop out of their ICT classes.

It is estimated that between the school years of 2012 and 2014 the number of secondary school pupils taking ICT classes fell by 10 percent, and the number is continuing to decline.

Although the Education Bureau launched a pilot scheme earlier this year under which an advanced-level ICT curriculum would be implemented in eight designated secondary schools, that is just peanuts, as there are more than 1,000 public high schools across Hong Kong.

Major cities around the world are putting a lot of effort and resources into enhancing ICT education in their schools.

For example, the city government of New York has just announced it will extend ICT lessons to every school over the next decade and will invest US$80 million in teacher training.

The education authorities in San Francisco announced in June they are going to make ICT lessons mandatory for all pupils under the age of 14.

In the face of the global tech challenge, it is important Hong Kong is able to nurture enough high-quality IT talent in the long run.

Therefore, I suggest that our government carry out a thorough review of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) curriculum in our schools and consider making ICT lessons mandatory.

In the meantime, the administration should also provide subsidies for pupils from grass-roots families to buy their own computers and take part in IT-related extracurricular activities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 26.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A Legislative Council member from the information technology functional constituency

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