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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hong Kong students need inspiration, not more tests, to excel by Professor Sun Kwok

Photo: Sun Kwok
Professor Sun Kwok, dean of science of the University of Hong Kong looks at how HKU's science curriculum has been reformed to shift education away from rote and abstract learning, to instead create a passion for problem-solving and a wider world view. 

These reforms are based on the philosophy that university education is more than vocational training. Our goal is to provide a whole-person education. 
Photo: South China Morning Post

It is widely reported in the media that Hong Kong students excel in standard science and mathematics tests. For example, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests 15-year-olds in many places, and Hong Kong students - along with those in Singapore, mainland China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea - always rank near the top.

It is widely reported in the media that Hong Kong students excel in standard science and mathematics tests. For example, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests 15-year-olds in many places, and Hong Kong students - along with those in Singapore, mainland China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea - always rank near the top.
 
When I arrived in Hong Kong to become dean of science at the University of Hong Kong in 2006, I had high hopes, as HKU takes the top students in the city. I thought it would be a pleasant change from the university students I had been teaching in Canada for the previous 20-some years, as 
Canadian students usually performed less well in these standard tests.
 
Indeed, I have found that some Hong Kong students are the smartest and hardest-working students I have ever met. Some are highly motivated to succeed.
 
At the same time, I can't help noticing that they have been let down by the system. While Hong Kong students can calculate mathematical problems very quickly and accurately, they have no idea what maths is for.
 
To them, mathematics is just an abstract exercise unrelated to the real world. Their idea of maths is to mechanically and repeatedly grind through formulas. When asked what mathematics can do to solve problems around us, few can give any answers.
 
Similarly, science in secondary schools is taught in a segregated manner, and students cannot relate physics to chemistry to biology. Even fewer can relate these subjects to nature, our environment or our everyday lives. Students are very good at learning the abstract knowledge in books, but many fail to see the science present all around them.
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Source: South China Morning Post 


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