IT and Education in Hong Kong

Professor Samuel Chanson
Professor Roland Chin
Mr. Lawrence Law
Professor Vincent Shen
Dr. John Wong

The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology

The Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) is pleased to see that the Policy Address of the Chief Executive on 8 October included policy on Information Technology (IT). We believe IT is vital in maintaining Hong Kong's competitiveness in the world market in the 21st century. We are pleased to see that clear goals were set and special funding was promised. This is a step in the right direction. However, perhaps due to its expected general nature, the Policy Address did not provide specifics on how to attain those goals. Also, a few issues did not receive sufficient attention. It is the purpose of this paper to focus on IT in education, since education is the prime mission of a university.

IT education is not only important for teachers and students in the schools and universities, but also for professionals in the work place. Some specific recommendations on IT Education in Hong Kong are given below:

1. To put forth an integrated plan for immediate actions and long-term goals on (a) IT education and (b) IT use for education, which involves the following sectors:

  • Primary and secondary schools
  • Vocational Training
  • Tertiary institutions
  • Adult education and employee training
  • Relevant government agencies

It is important not to limit IT education to people with aspirations to become an IT professional. Everyone, especially the teachers, must be knowledgeable on what IT can do to help them in their own disciplines, and be comfortable using IT in their daily work.

2. To identify enabling technology and infrastructure requirements for education-specific IT needs, such as:

  • Computers for schools, libraries, community centres, etc.
  • High-speed networks for broad-based Internet connectivity (minimum 512 Kbps for each school)
  • High-speed links to overseas (T3 speed)
  • Wide-spread accessibility from homes and offices

It is important to have good infrastructure support when introducing IT to a person not familiar with its utility. Long delays or unreliable performance caused by the computer, software, or the network can quickly frustrate a newcomer. Adequate funding of the above will help reduce such problems.

3. To provide contents, information infrastructure and IT tools for the education sector:

  • Public electronic libraries and on-line repositories of education material, multimedia data, software tools, etc.
  • Internet-based courses (English and Chinese) for students of all ages, and for adult education
  • Standards on Chinese contents to ensure interoperability among all public and private sectors
  • Computer-assisted software teaching tools for secondary and primary teachers
  • Distance learning facilities (electronic classrooms)

Creating software for education (often called "courseware" is a major undertaking. The development of suitable education software for the local environment, especially those with Chinese interface and Chinese contents, is critical. But suitable education software will take many years to develop. Keeping the courseware products up-to-date is also very difficult. Because of its low commercial potential (as evidenced by experience in North America), the Government will have to fund the bulk of the development cost in order to start the process.

4. To enhance training of professional teachers, to provide IT teacher education, and to provide adult education for working professionals, such as:

  • Joint B.S. and B.Ed. degree in IT to produce future generation of high quality IT professions as school teachers
  • Joint effort between tertiary institutions, HKIEd, and ED to provide in-service training of professional teachers
  • Joint effort between tertiary institutions, HKIE, HKCS, industries and government to provide continuing education for working professionals and civil servants.

    In addition, we believe the Government should identify development and applied research projects in a few vital areas, and promote them with special funding programmes. These include electronic commerce, the establishment of one or more certificate authorities, distance learning and digital libraries, electronic government, internet security, Chinese web standards, and IT in education. HKUST has expertise and is continuing to contribute in each of these areas.

    Most of the existing IT software products have been developed for the English-speaking clientele. To popularize IT in Hong Kong, good software products with friendly Chinese user interface and contents are needed. Standards for different Chinese encoding schemes to interoperate, and issues specific to the Chinese community such as cascade style documents, Chinese URL, and web content labeling should be managed locally. HKUST is establishing a center called the World Wide Web Consortium - Chinese Computing (W3C3) with partners in Taiwan in January 1998 and partners from the Mainland soon afterward as that will be the largest growth area for web applications. On-line English/Chinese translation engines as well as Chinese search engines are needed. HKUST has been working on these projects for several years which will facilitate the Chinese-speaking clientele to gain access to information written in English, and vice versa.

    The universities should be encouraged and supported to pursue all of these ventures.

    Last Updated on 7 December 1997