Tuesday, 30 June 2009

False Hopes in New Bottles

Last Monday (22 June) after the last meeting of the Taskforce on Economic Challenges (TFEC), Chief Executive Sir Donald Tsang announced that six industries in which Hong Kong is believed to have an edge would be developed as part of its efforts to sustain long-term growth. The six industries are education, medical services, testing and certification, environmental industries, innovation and technology and cultural and creative industries. According to the official press release, specific measures have been proposed to facilitate the development of those six industries.

Reading the transcript of Sir Donald's speech and the TFEC proposals, I couldn't help groaning in great despair. What a lip service, my impulsive reaction off it went. Why is it so difficult for the Government leaders to come to their senses, if any, and recognise how complacent and narrow-minded they are? I continued to ask.

The first thing I want to complain is the absence of any well-thought strategy, or, even worse, any visible attempt to come up with something close. The strategy is essential in defining direction towards which the six industries would head into and what they are supposed to achieve. Take education as an example: why do we need privately funded universities in Hong Kong? What are these institutions going to achieve? Will they enhance the overall education level of local citizens or simply become a tertiary version of the profiteering tuition centres that help students succeed in public examinations? None of these questions seem to be asked, let alone answers provided. That education has been identified as one of the industries or “economic areas” seems to hint at some unspoken truth.

The second frustration comes from the lack of creativity and depth in Sir Donald's remarks, which reminds me of the key underlying issue of Hong Kong's predicament. Surely we need to develop our local talents. Surely we need to attract talents from around the world. But what kind of talents do we need? How can we nurture them in sustainable manner - bearing in mind the ruthless preference for IT and business training at times of bubbles? More importantly, do we know if we are capable of nurturing local talents and attracting those from overseas? If not, what do we need to do in order to achieve these? Failure of Sir Donald and his administration to tackle these important questions indicates not their incapability but the lack of vision and depth in a thinking process we desperately need to bring Hong Kong to another level.

A knowledge-based economy succeeds only when creativity, knowledge and innovation are encouraged, appreciated and rewarded. But Hong Kong has never been capable of doing so, thanks to the quick and lucrative economic gains from financial and property speculations over the last 30 years. Few seem to receive the wholehearted and overwhelming respect and appreciation enjoyed by the dollar sign. For example, education has been downgraded to vocational training for great jobs defined by handsome salaries. When employers complain of poor language skills among graduates, public resources are being injected to improve language skills to the level just good enough for day-to-day business communication. But why can't our undergraduates even engage in effective business communication after learning English and Chinese for 20 years? How great our language skills can be when few of us are interested in, let alone appreciate, the pleasure of reading the great works of Cao Xueqin and Shakespeare?

These are just some of the initial questions coming into my mind when I read Sir Donald's speech on the Government web site. The ultimate answer of these questions goes back to education, not vocational training but the mental development process that should equip our younger generations with the critical and creative mind essential for the pursuit of knowledge and innovation. Only when we can redefine education can we change the short-term, profit-driven mentality that has dragged Hong Kong's feet for way too long.

Apparently it requires enormous courage and determination to recognise our weaknesses. It requires even greater courage and determination to take concrete steps to change. As a response to Sir Donald's six economic areas for Hong Kong's long-term sustainable development, I would like to call for a second thought on the questions raised in this blog entry before we waste our time once again on the false hopes packaged in new wine bottles.

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