Education must adapt to needs as they evolve
This article appeared originally in China Daily on 2 Feb, 2024.
Authors: Bubble Lui, Assistant Researcher, Our Hong Kong Foundation
“Will technology replace humans?” This has become a popular question in the past few years, especially since the spread of ChatGPT showed that artificial intelligence can answer questions, gather relevant information quickly, and provide fluent responses in various languages, much the same as a human.
With this heated discussion taking place, moderating the panel discussion on “The Equitable AI Series: Reimagining Education”, organized by Wofoo Social Enterprises at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, gave me a new perspective and provoked important reflections on whether the current education system is sufficient and relevant enough to equip future generations.
The panel brought together industry experts and educators to discuss the gaps between the education system and industry needs, and it is now clear that the “actual” question one must ask is, “How do I better equip myself to thrive in this constantly evolving society?”
Digital transformation brings opportunities and challenges
Despite the reassurance that humans have soft skills such as critical thinking ability, human emotions and communication skills that AI likely doesn’t, technological advancement is not without its challenges. It brings unique opportunities and challenges that humans must learn, adapt to, and overcome.
Technology advancement has transformed Hong Kong’s industry. Digital transformation is taking place everywhere. Novel technologies, artificial intelligence, Web3, and immersive technologies are incorporated into daily work. A well-known example is fintech, where mobile payments and cryptocurrencies have become prevalent, and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government has shown significant support toward fintech development by organizing events such as the Hong Kong FinTech Week last year to gather worldwide talent.
This brings new job opportunities, while also growing industries such as blockchain technology. It also underlines the increased importance of entrepreneurs, professionals, and scientists who innovate new technologies, and greater demand for technicians to assist with technical equipment.
Simultaneously, it challenges the nature of many jobs as technical knowledge will be needed. For example, teachers should be familiar with the “Zoom teaching model” and online teaching platform; finance professionals should be equipped with virtual asset knowledge; and healthcare professionals should learn new health technologies.
Learning to embrace the ‘new normal’
To adapt to the ever-changing society, it is critical to change how and what people learn. One significant example is ChatGPT, which has stirred great debate concerning its regulation at universities.
Some initially banned it before performing a U-turn, encouraging students to embrace the technology and practice it responsibly. Some universities also considered adjusting course assessments to fit ChatGPT into the curriculum. (e.g., critically evaluating the response by ChatGPT, including in-person examinations to ensure fair assessment of students’ learning and work originality).
Technology is here to stay, so learning to utilize these technologies to facilitate work and increase efficiency is the right move.
Cultivating future talents
Embracing changes in technology is only the first step. Hong Kong needs to actively cultivate the talent pool to respond to an ever-changing industry.
It’s time to rethink the education system, taking into account what Hong Kong needs and how to best equip future generations for what’s to come.
The government has been actively promoting STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics). This includes plans to introduce science and enrich coding education in the primary school curriculum, and innovation and technology (I&T) elements such as AI in the secondary school curriculum and aiming to ensure 35 percent of University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded universities students study STEAM subjects.
However, this is only the starting point. There should be collective discussions between educators, industries, and the public on the following two critical questions:
First, can the supply of courses and their relevant content meet the demand of different industries? Using blockchain technology as an example, blockchain companies’ owners indicated a severe lack of talent in their industry. Despite the increasing usage of blockchain technology and Web3, especially in finance, it is still a relatively new field and not known to many people. There are currently short certificate courses (e.g., HKU Space offers a standalone one-to-two month Executive Certificate in Applications of Blockchain in Financial Technology or as an elective course in bachelor’s degree programs) and very few undergraduate or graduate programs are available (e.g., the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Master of Science in Blockchain Technology is one of the rare programs).
To truly meet industry demand, instead of merely promoting STEAM education broadly, it is critical to bring together all sectors and policymakers to evaluate industries’ personnel and skill requirements, before the information is translated into the education system and curriculum planning.
Second, how to ensure the education provided is updated and adapted to industries’ needs? School-industry partnerships should be strengthened not only to ensure close alignment between industry development and school curriculum but also to provide more practical opportunities for young people and better cultivate their interest in technology.
A notable example is the Jockey Club Multiple Pathways Initiative’s Clap-Tech program. It emphasizes tripartite collaboration between secondary schools, universities and industry partners, providing students with three years of secondary school applied learning subject courses (e.g., Tech Basic) and two years of Higher Diploma (e.g., Data Science). Throughout the program, students will learn relevant tech knowledge and be given workplace learning opportunities provided by industry partners. Currently, 11 secondary schools have participated in the program, and there is room for expansion.
Simultaneously, numerous technology enterprises are set to expand their businesses in the Northern Metropolis with the government’s Office for Attracting Strategic Enterprises (OASES) making continuous efforts. This provides a golden opportunity for the government to coordinate more internship programs and credit-bearing industry exposure for youths.
Technology will continue to evolve. With collaborative efforts from the government, educators, relevant sectors, and the general public, Hong Kong can build an adaptive education system that keeps up with the rapidly changing society and cultivates the optimal talent pool for Hong Kong’s sustainable development.