Submission from OUHK to the Provisional Legislative Council's Panel on Information Policy

The Open University of Hong Kong fully recognises the increasing importance of information technology in all education, service and industrial sectors and welcomes the multi pronged approach proposed in the Chief Executive's 1997 policy address to ensure that not only is the Hong Kong society provided with the most up to date technological facilities but also that its educational system is geared towards producing school leavers who are highly skilled in the use of Information Technology (IT).

The University notes, however, that while efforts to promote the use of IT in schools are commendable, it will need time (10 - 15 years) to bring about significant results. We also note that there is no mention of any initiative to address the need to provide IT training for the young adult workforce of Hong Kong. We suggest that resources put into improving the IT skills and knowledge of the current workforce will bring about a more immediate impact to jump-start the move towards developing an IT culture.

At OUHK, a number of courses are already using IT (internet, multi-media CD ROM) to mediate its presentation. Development of more courses for delivery via the internet is in progress. Progress in this area (including research into the use of technology as well as the application of information technology to enhance course delivery for language and other courses) will be accelerated through projects to be funded through the HK$50M grant that was recently awarded to the University by the Hong Kong SAR Government.

The OUHK's current development plans will be able to contribute towards achieving the Chief Executive's policy objectives in the following ways :

  1. A course specially designed to develop and enhance the adult learners' knowledge and skills in the use of the Internet will be offered in April 1998. This will be followed by the introduction of other courses in similar areas to enable students to complete a sub degree qualification on Internet Technology.

  2. The University is well placed to offer courses which provide coherent training in the use of information technologies to enhance the teaching-learning process to school teachers.

Our detailed comments on specific paragraphs of the Chief Executive's Policy Address are as follows :

1) Stimulating New Technology Industries

Para 31

We agree that innovation, adapting to new technologies and developing new industries will always be important and welcome the pledge to inject up to $500 million into the Applied Research Fund to support commercialisation of research findings. It should, however, be pointed out that sufficient funds must be made to support IT research in the first place. Without important research findings, there may not be anything to commercialise.

2) Connecting to the Information Age

Para 44

We support the Chief Executive's vision that Hong Kong becomes a leader in the development and enhancement of information technology. Whilst the first (hardware) and second (software) conditions can be easily achieved, the third (human resource) and fourth (cultural environment) would require considerably more resources and time to produce the desired results.

3) Information Technology Coordination

Para 45

We welcome the idea of setting up a coordinating body. It is important that this body be staffed by high calibre leaders/officers who are proactive and are prepared to take a flexible approach to ensure that rapid progress in information technology development is facilitated rather than impeded by bureaucratic procedures. Government must ensure that access to the internet is both easy and affordable. Current practices of imposing P Net charges should be dispensed with since such additional charges (not seen in Australia and the USA) impedes more widespread usage of the Internet. The number of independent service providers (ISPs) as well as the level of competition should be maintained or even increased to ensure that consumers and users are provided with the most efficient and user friendly service. This will, in turn, facilitate the development of an IT culture amongst Hong Kong Society. Current and anticipated problems related to the limitations of bandwidth must be addressed urgently.

It is also important to encourage the various ISP's to use mutually compatible software systems to enhance interconnectivity between consumers subscribing to different ISP networks. Government must encourage business to ensure that access to IT services should be affordable for the vast majority of the Hong Kong people. Government should also enhance the effectiveness of the Internet by speeding up the process of emplacing its considerable information resource base on the Web. This will encourage greater usage by the community.

4) Information Technology in Education

Para 46 & 47

We welcome this initiative and agree that its medium term (5 and 10 years) objectives are attainable given adequate resource support. Increasing the number and capacity of computers would appear to be the easy part. The more difficult task lies in training the teachers, particularly those currently in the teaching services, since they will necessarily need to learn before they can impart knowledge and skills to their pupils. Based on the experience of some Western countries, a very substantial part - usually in the region of 50% to 70% - of the investment in any move towards IT needs to be spent on staff development. We appreciate the ambitious proposal of the Government to train 30,000 teachers in the use of IT in the teaching process. The OUHK has experience in providing high quality in-service teacher education courses. These courses can provide training to a very large number of teachers by exploiting the economies of scale inherent in the distance education delivery mode. Staff in the School of Education are in close contact with the Education Department to discuss possible arrangements for such distance learning courses in IT for teachers. Furthermore, in response to this recent government initiative, the School proposes to introduce a course : Educational & Information Technology for its BEd (Hons) in Primary Education Students. The use of IT in helping student develop language skills is currently being explored.

With respect to the proposed pilot scheme to establish best practices, it should be pointed out that the literature records numerous well documented experience related to similar developments in other parts of the world and the implementers of pilot studies should be reminded not to unreasonably expend valuable resource on reinventing wheels.

5) The Challenge Ahead

Para 48

We support the Government's commitment to ensure an open market and the liberalisation of international telecommunication services in Hong Kong. We feel that on the technological front, advanced broadband communications connections can be implemented in a shorter time frame than the one projected, given the rapid pace of development in this area.

We note that an important segment that has been left out of the Chief Executive's policy address is the young working adult population. Providing them with the latest IT training can "jump-start" the move towards developing a society with an IT culture since resources put into training them will bear fruit much earlier than the medium term plan of producing IT literate high school graduates.

In support of the need to provide IT training to Hong Kong's working adult, OUHK has actually scheduled the launch of a 10 credit course - U123 Introduction to the Internet to introduce adult learners to the internet and enable them to incorporate the Internet into their work and social life as a multifaceted communication, search and publishing tool. Students completing this course can proceed towards a Diploma in Internet Technology offered by the School of Science & Technology while serving teachers who enroll on this course can also proceed towards a more comprehensive package of training in the use of IT in Education.

In order to encourage more young working adults to make use of these opportunities, Government should consider the provision of loans not only to cover the cost of tuition but also the purchase of appropriate computer hardware and software. It should also encourage industry to do likewise by providing appropriate tax incentives for companies to support approved IT training for their staff.

Last Updated on 7 December 1997