As senior government figures work overtime to define Hong Kong’s future economic role within the Greater Bay Area, an important opportunity is being overlooked.
This week, the city’s financial secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po, stated on his blog that the local technology sector can benefit from Beijing’s ambitious plan to integrate 67 million citizens from Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities and transform the entire area into a technology and innovation powerhouse that can rival Silicon Valley.
He is probably correct but beyond the political rhetoric, some of the practical details remain a little nebulous. While Hong Kong’s potential role in the banking and financial sphere appears to be well understood, it’s not so clear exactly what the city can contribute in terms of innovation and technology.
Smart cities like Shenzhen have already earned a glowing international reputation for high-technology innovation and for embracing the digital sharing economy. It already hosts giant tech companies like Tencent, Huawei, BYD and ZTE, so how can Hong Kong fit in?
Education rather than pure innovation must be the way forward for Hong Kong in the context of the Greater Bay Area. The city is much better placed to play a leading role in driving the technology education that will be the foundation for the success of the Greater Bay Area, than it is to be a hotbed of mass high-tech manufacturing.
With international standards in education, world-class universities and researchers, a growing STEM education network and a mature and internationally influenced school system, Hong Kong is ideally positioned to be a center of excellence for technology education.
Hong Kong also offers expertise in IP protection, a robust legal framework and the perfect base for global tech education providers to offer their expertise to the Greater Bay Area. Hong Kong’s proficiency in English also provides a competitive edge because English is the language of technology. There is no such thing as a computer-based machine coded in simplified Chinese and premier tech education is always delivered in English. It is not the language of our distant colonial past but of the vibrant, technology-driven future.
The tech education model suits Hong Kong’s key strengths and there is already a huge demand on the mainland where artificial intelligence is already being embedded in the school curriculum.
The world’s largest employment sectors are increasingly digital technology businesses which are based online. The success of the fastest growing firms like Alibaba, Google and Tencent, is built on digital know-how and knowledge.
Talent supply remains the number one challenge facing all digital tech businesses and that depends on high-quality technology education. While tech skills, like coding, are gaining more recognition in Hong Kong, there is already a huge thirst within the Greater Bay Area.
There are many simple practical steps we should be taking now which could be overseen by a working committee that would comprise of IT experts, STEM educators and government officials, which can set the ball in motion. This groundwork should particularly focus on the field of youth technology education on which the future success of the Greater Bay Area will depend.
Better coordination is required of cross-border SMART city school visits to the zero-carbon building in Kowloon, to renewable energy centers in Hong Kong and Guangdong province, the science park and leading university R&D centers to inspire learning from best practice.
More encouragement for educational faculties in local universities is needed to beef up both research and application of education pedagogies for technology education in schools. Some academics at the faculty of education, at the University of Hong Kong, are undertaking such research for some local schools on STEM curriculum design. This work needs to be expanded.
We need to encourage and support global leaders in coding and STEM programmes to come to Hong Kong and invite students from the Greater Bay Area to attend their courses. More support is needed for the growing extracurricular STEM education network in Hong Kong so it can be promoted to the Greater Bay Area.
And this all needs to be fun, creative and exciting by incorporating popular media concepts and characters, hosting high-profile maths Olympiads and technology competitions and underlining that technology and STEM education are about creativity and not just acquisition of knowledge.
There is no reason why Hong Kong can’t be the intellectual and educational powerhouse which is the soft power behind the Greater Bay Area and its rise as a globally recognised center of innovation and technology.
It makes common sense to exploit an opportunity that matches Hong Kong’s strengths and China’s needs. It must not be overlooked in the noise of political posturing.
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