HK needs education reform to prepare for the AI era

March 05, 2019 11:41
With artificial intelligence expected to find more applications in future, people will need to upgrade their skills to avoid becoming redundant in the job market. Photo: Bloomberg

A joint study conducted by Hong Kong think-tank One Country, Two Systems Research Institute and the University of Oxford on the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) technology on the Hong Kong employment market has warned that 28 percent of the 3.7 million jobs in the city could be at high risk of being automated.

A million Hongkongers would see a 70 percent chance of their jobs being substituted by AI technology in the next 10 or 20 years.

Given this, how should we prepare ourselves and our students for the age of AI?

In a 2013 study by the Oxford Martin School of the University of Oxford, creative intelligence, social intelligence, as well as perception and manipulation capabilities were identified as the three "bottlenecks" to computerization.

Yet our Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) examination not only fails to equip students with these capabilities, it keeps doing the opposite.

Students active in extra-curricular activities are often good at expressing themselves and communicating with others; some demonstrate excellent social intelligence and are charismatic class leaders.

However, in order to secure a place in university, these active and outgoing students have to, sooner or later, cut down on their extracurricular activities and focus on cramming and drilling for exam.

With such strong emphasis on exam results, we are encouraging and nurturing students who may score high in tests but are actually low in abilities.

As for creative intelligence, it has little or no value in the public exam as there are model answers, and creative interpretations are not rewarded marks.

Despite the groundbreaking reform of 3-3-4 education, the education curriculum in Hong Kong still grades a student largely based on one critical examination, which could determine his or her fate.

In contrast, for those who enroll in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, learners will have 70 percent of their performance measured from continuous assessments in terms of their homework, assignments, and all the internal school exams.

The IB curriculum is clearly more likely to facilitate students in developing self-learning skills, analytical skills and logical thinking which are crucial for surviving the upcoming age of automation. 

The 2013 Oxford study also ranked occupations according to their probability of computerization, from least- to most-computerizable.

Traditional accountants and auditors, for instance, are predicted to have a 94 percent chance of their tasks being automated in the future, sounding an alarm for the professionals.

In 2016, JPMorgan Chase introduced Contract Intelligence (COIN) -- a software program that could eliminate an estimated 360,000 hours of mundane work each year previously done by lawyers and loan officers.

In simpler words, students might have to think twice if they would like to develop a career in the financial industry when their competitors are no longer human but rather unbeatable machines.

As of today, business administration and management remains the most popular discipline among the UGC-funded degree program, while computer science or information technology accounts for only 4 percent of the total undergraduate places.

The University Grants Committee and tertiary institutions should increase publicly-funded places for AI-related programs, so as to support Hong Kong's future development as a world-class innovation and technology center.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 21

Translation by John Chui with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]