How children can create their smart future

February 09, 2018 15:35
Education is one of the top three elements that will determine Hong Kong's prospects and continued prosperity. Photo: Bloomberg

Late last month, the Smart City Consortium released a survey report on issues related to Hong Kong's development as a smart city. More than 500 business executives and 1,000 citizens were interviewed for the survey. Both the groups of interviewees cited education as one of the top three elements for Hong Kong's prospects and continued prosperity.

They also said that engineering and applied science will be crucial to Hong Kong's development in the coming ten years. Today, as we are overwhelmed by information technology, such expectation is very reasonable. However, do our children have the same aspiration?

Education and Employers, a UK charity, together with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), recently conducted the biggest survey of its kind, and its result was released in late January. The project invited children aged 7 to 11 to draw a picture of the job they want when they grow up. Over 20,000 entries were received from all over the world, including China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Britain, Switzerland, Australia, Russia and Uganda. Although there are culture differences, we can see a surprising similarity.

First of all, there is a significant mismatch between the career aspiration of primary school students and the anticipated global labor market demands. Meanwhile, the children's favorite jobs are often those they know and see in daily life, such as the occupation of their parents or their parent’s friends, or some characters they see on media. However, less than 1 percent of the children can access their role models at school.

As the OECD’s Director for Education and Skills said, "The lack of access to role models and awareness of the different jobs is a particular concern for children from disadvantaged backgrounds."

The challenge is this: How to inspire our next generation to broaden their imagination and connect with the real world, to help them establish themselves well in future society? In this regard, education is particularly important.

That is why STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education is crucial in primary schools. Basic knowledge will help them understand the world is increasingly dependent on information technology in particular. Therefore, I was very excited about the Smart City × STEM Education seminar organized by the e-Learning Development Laboratory of the University of Hong Kong in early February. It brought together experts to inspire primary and secondary school students and teachers from different perspectives.

At the forum, I talked about "How to Design a Smart City". During the session, I brought up the importance of spatial thinking. Many features of smart city, such as smart traffic lights and smart transport systems are location related. The efficient application of spatial concept forms the backbone of a smart city. Spatial thinking is also a gift that human beings depended on for survival over millions of years. Today, it helps us acquire the ability to solve problems such as climate change, ageing population, transport planning, and even address the disparity between the rich and the poor.

Through geographic information system (GIS) analysis software, we can combine the data from various sources, based on geospatial information. The macro issues are then graphically layered which enables us to appreciate the interacting factors simultaneously and form a whole picture of the situation. Therefore, decision-making becomes more broad based and comprehensive.

The HKU expert forum is one of the training courses of Education Bureau's Smart City Project Program 2017/18. The project aims to let primary and secondary school students integrate their STEM knowledge and innovative thoughts and encourage them to explore the smart city concept in real-world environment such as at home and school.

As the chairman of Esri China (Hong Kong), one of the 21 co-organizers of the Education Bureau's smart city program, I deeply hope the event can inspire children from all walks of life to think about expectations from tomorrow's world, so that together we can build the future of our smart city.

– Contact us at [email protected]



Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong