Future Information Technology Development
the Panel on Information Policy
of the Provisional Legislative Council
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
3 November 1997
The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) is pleased to submit its views to the Panel on Information Policy of the Provisional Legislative Council on the future information technology (IT) development. CUHK is one of the key providers in Hong Kong of trained IT professionals and school teachers, and is heavily engaged in many aspects of IT research and development. As such, CUHK is willing to offer its expertise to the community and to advise on the future development. Our representatives will be pleased to attend and to provide oral submissions at meetings of the Panel on Information Policy.
We note that a key component of the future IT development, especially for the longer term, is an emphasis on IT education in the school sector, both learning about IT and learning through IT. This key initiative is applauded for its vision.
However, a number of issues need to be considered in the implementation.
In many ways, hardware will be the easiest. But even for hardware, it is important to cut down on the bureaucracy that surrounds hardware acquisition; currently, the time taken to process orders and the length of validity of tenders are long compared with product innovation cycles. Service and flexibility will be maximized if several authorized vendors are appointed after tender. Computers need to be available in sufficient numbers for teachers to use and learn about IT. There also has to be an appreciation of the range of peripheral equipment needed to fully exploit the potential of PCs (for example, networks, scanners, good printers, projectors and digital cameras). Classrooms may have to be re-designed, and the space utilization pattern may need adaptation, in order to make the best use of the hardware.
Schools should provide computer access after school hours. According to standard time-tables, students have only one or two computer sessions per week. To develop IT knowledge and skills, they need the time to explore and practise at their own pace. The government should consider equipping schools, libraries and community centers with IT equipment for off-school access at a modest fee. Teachers can then assume that students have access to computers to work on assignments.
However, the more important and more difficult links will be software and content, the latter in particular for the purpose of learning through IT. Off-the-shell content sometimes just translates textbooks into an electronic format, without fully exploiting the interactive and dynamic ability of IT.
The production of content suitable to local needs (especially in Chinese for use by younger students and in view of the policy on Chinese medium instruction in junior secondary schools) will require a fairly long process of adaptation, development, testing and evaluation, the first step of which might be the development of tools for producing course-ware. The resources required may be substantial.
By far the most important will be people. We need school teachers who are trained in the use of IT, enthusiastic about IT and able to learn on their own as new technology emerges. CUHK, with its expertise in IT and in teacher education, is prepared to participate in the planning and the delivery of such training. Apart from teachers, effective IT education in schools will require the provision of at least one computer technician for each school, just as technicians are provided for other science subjects.
CUHK has taken a lead in providing a platform for interactive IT instruction for secondary school students through the launch of the HK School Net, with subsidy from University funds. This net, linked to school domains and accessed by school students for a modest subscription, provides healthy, education-related content (with unsuitable contents screened out) and discussion forums. Members of the Panel on Information Policy are invited to browse at http://www.school.net.hk/.
We note that 20 pilot schools will be selected to establish best practices for IT applications in teaching and learning. The Hong Kong School Net has run a pilot school scheme of 12 schools for two years. We provide a dedicated line for each school, and email accounts for every student and every teacher. We are ready, through the combined strengths of our Faculties, especially the Faculties of Education and Engineering, to share our experience and to provide advice and help in order to launch the pilot school programme to the highest possible standard. The schools currently enrolled in Hong Kong School Net are probably the ones most ready to take up this challenge.
Given the magnitude and the complexity of the tasks involved in IT Education, the setting up of an IT Committee with IT experts, educators and supervisors would help to plan and supervise the project. CUHK is ready to contribute.
The upgrading of the community's IT capabilities will require a huge supply of IT professionals with very broad training: in a large range of softwares, languages and operating systems, not only because many different products are used in society, but also because exposure to different technologies will enhance the ability to learn and adapt in the future, as new products and standards come onto the market. More importantly, these professionals should not be mere technicians, but should have received a liberal and general education, and have a knowledge of some of the different fields to which IT is applied, for example manufacturing, accounting, commerce and education.
In view of this demand, it is clear that the need for postgraduate training and re-training is now grossly under-estimated in public sector manpower planning. We therefore call for a very substantial increase in the provision of master-level courses (of which IT forms one important part). CUHK stands ready to offer such courses to a very high level and with very short lead time once the provision is made. In fact, even ahead of public sector provisions, CUHK is already offering, on a self-funded basis, four master-level courses targeted at precisely this area, with a total enrolment of nearly 250.
To elevate Hong Kong into a modern community in which IT plays a significant role in education, commerce and industry, and in so doing to enhance our competitiveness, it is important that a long-term plan be formulated to improve our IT infrastructure, especially an information superhighway. There is a case to be made for public-sector involvement both in the planning and the provision, since the information superhighway is in many ways not different from a vehicular highway, which would always be constructed and managed by the public sector. Private-sector approaches are likely to be piecemeal and fragmentary, and influenced by profit considerations of the vendor, which is often in a monopolistic or quasi-monopolistic position.
The Panel is invited to note that CUHK introduced the first Internet link connecting Hong Kong to the rest of the world in 1991, created the Hong Kong Internet Exchange (HKIX) and manages it on behalf of the community. We stand ready to offer our services and our expertise to the community plan to upgrade the IT infrastructure.
IT Policy Coordination
We welcome the proposal to place all IT-related matters under one Bureau. There is a case for integrating this Bureau with that responsible for science and technology, but at the same time, one needs to be conscious, and to project the image, that IT is a tool applicable beyond science and technology.
IT Research and Development
The vision of an IT community will require a significant component of local R&D in IT and related areas: to develop products, to carve out niches for Hong Kong in technology-intensive industries, and through these activities train high level professionals for the community. CUHK has substantial experience and track record in this area, with strong teams both recruited from leading institutions around the world and trained locally. Some of the products developed include: VIOLA, a video-on-demand system over a local area network suitable for both entertainment and in-house training; Jasmine, a Chinese Web browser; PNS, a personal news service system whereby a personalized agent will gather all the news about a selected topic from Chinese and English newspapers and magazines on the Web; IPOC, a multilingual search engine on the internet; and Intellect, a lecture-on-demand system to provide multimedia lessons to anyone anywhere any time over the internet. CUHK will be pleased to arrange visits by the Panel or its members in order to gain a first-hand impression of some of the exciting and leading-edge work that is produced here in Hong Kong.
As an institution engaged in education and research, CUHK recognizes its responsibility to contribute to this initiative by Government.
Last Updated on 7 December 1997