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Conference on“Human Capital Management in Greater China: Maintaining Hong Kong's Competitive Advantage and Adding Value to the PRD”

Keynote Speech by Prof. Arthur K C Li, GBS, JP

Secretary for Education and Manpower

at the South China Morning Post

and Hong Kong Institute of Human Resources Management (IHRM)

Conference on “Human Capital Management in Greater China : Maintaining Hong Kong ’s Competitive Advantage

and Adding Value to the PRD”


on 26 January 2005



Enhancing our Human Capital - Academic Structure Reform



Mr. Armstrong, ladies and gentlemen,


It gives me great pleasure to speak at this gathering of distinguished professionals from various fields.




I have lately been speaking a lot on reforming the academic structure and you see a lot of my face on TV and in the newspaper. Being an educationist I am far from bored by this subject. Unlike politicians, they are just never bored by their own voice.  Enhancing our human capital is of immense importance to our future generations and the future of Hong Kong . I have been seizing every opportunity to talk about it and to collect feedback. Thus, when I received your kind invitation and suggested that I should speak on this important topic, I have no hesitation in accepting your offer.


The subject of Academic Structure Reform to enhance our human capital is indeed relevant to the main theme of today’s conference. 


Our success in the past owed much to our industrious workforce. This alone, however, is not sufficient to guarantee our continued success. The new world demands new skills and new paradigms. To maintain our competitive edge, to stay ahead in the fast developing region and to strive to be Asia 's World City , we need to constantly upgrade our workforce so that they can rise to the challenge in this rapidly changing world.  Mainland China is our hinterland and a huge market to us. Under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, more and more of our enterprises will be able to enter the Mainland markets and that means job opportunities to our workforce. In face of the vast potential ahead of us, we need to better prepare our people, especially our younger generation, to be equipped with the capability to live up to the challenge of a knowledge based economy and to lead the community to climb the value chain.


Apart from perceiving our Motherland as a huge market, we should not lose sight of the strategic importance of Hong Kong and the benefit we can derive from developing a more vibrant Pearl River Delta (PRD) Region. The PRD, being one of the engines behind the economic growth of the Mainland China in the last decade, will continue to grow and become an economic powerhouse in the country. Its continuous success will have a spillover effect from which we stand to benefit. But we have to stand ready to take full advantage of these opportunities and more importantly to earn it by investing in our workforce and human resources.


However, for our workforce to support our efforts to make headway in the huge Mainland market and grasp the job opportunities in the PRD Region, they need to be well-educated, well-trained, capable and versatile. The Government has adopted a three-pronged approach to maintain and enhance the competitiveness of our workforce, namely: i) to reform the education system to enhance its quality; ii) to equip our workforce with new skills to keep pace with our manpower needs; and iii) to promote life-long learning so that our workforce will continue to rejuvenate to meet the changing needs of the labour market.


These are really the compelling reasons behind our recently proposed academic structure reform, the 3+3+4, which is an important mission not just dear to the hearts of educationalists or policy makers, but also an important task for the whole community to take forward.


Why Reform


The existing system of 2+2 within senior secondary education, with a selection process after the first two years, has served Hong Kong well in the past, but times have changed. Economic and societal changes, rapid development of new technologies and knowledge and increasing global competitiveness require that Hong Kong provide a full senior secondary education to all, enabling all students to become self-initiating and lifelong learners. At present only a third of Secondary 5 graduates continue their studies at Secondary 6. This is low by international standards.



Secondary education is the platform for embedding an individual’s lifelong learning abilities. There is an urgent need for a new system that will cater for individual differences and enable all secondary students to develop their capacities to the full. Greater emphasis will be placed on learning how to learn, rather than on acquiring detailed knowledge in a narrow field. This calls for a more broad-based curriculum with more choices to suit individual aptitudes and interests, and for a different approach to learning. This also caters for the need of our ability to cope with a fast changing environment under the dynamic forces of globalization and internationalization that Hong Kong is facing.


Academic Structure Reform


The new academic structure is designed from these rationale. There are two main features under the new structure:


l            the current  "3+2+2+3" system will be turned into a "3+3+4" comprising a three-year junior and three-year senior secondary education and a four-year undergraduate degree; and

l            students will no longer be confined and streamed into arts, science, commercial or technical studies at an early age.  All students will pursue a programme of study made up of three components - core subjects, elective subjects and other learning experiences that cater for their different needs, interests, aptitude and abilities.


With the revamp of the present system into a 3+3+4 format, all students will have the opportunity to complete a 3-year senior secondary course and hence be better prepared for work or further learning. 


Under the new curriculum, the core subjects of Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies will account for 45-55% of the total lesson time.  Another 20-30% will be earmarked for students to choose two or three elective subjects.  These may include one or more career-oriented subjects offered in areas like Business, Arts and Media, Design, Services, Performing Arts, Information Technology, Engineering, Food and Production, or Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality.


To meet important non-academic goals, schools will make good use of the remaining lesson time (15-35%) to provide students with learning opportunities that foster moral and civic education, involve community service or work-related experiences such as job attachment and include aesthetic and physical activities.


The new senior secondary curriculum will help strengthen students’ generic skills, including biliterate and trilingual fluencies, IT skills and a broadened knowledge base through the subject of Liberal Studies in particular. We hope to enhance their awareness and help them understand contemporary issues that impact on their daily life at personal, community, national and global levels. The introduction of career-oriented studies will enrich students’ choice, and enables them to acquire skills other than academic studies.  These will enable our students to build connections between what they learn from classes and what happens in the real world, again, an element of vital importance if Hong Kong is to remain as an international city. This more coherent and diversified curriculum will also enable students of different needs, interests, aptitudes and abilities to explore their potentials to the full and gain self confidence to move ahead.


In regard to assessment, we propose that the current Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination and Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination be replaced by a single new public examination, the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education.  With the elimination of one public examination, the pressure on students and teachers will be reduced and the learning time and space, as well as the learning effectiveness, will be increased.


By laying a more solid senior secondary education foundation, universities will have more time and space in a 4-year undergraduate programme to provide a broader and more diversified curriculum, including, wherever appropriate and possible, overseas or Mainland exchange programmes. This will widen our students’ horizons and expose them to both specialized and broad knowledge for a more balanced whole-person development.


The new “3+3+4” academic system will also align Hong Kong with mainstream international systems. The new structure not only helps students develop various potentials, but nurture their attitude towards lifelong learning.  It helps students to be better prepared for post-secondary education, or to undergo vocational training and join the workforce. The new system ensures diversity of choices for students to realize their potential. It provides multiple pathways to higher academic, vocational and professional qualifications so that every student will have opportunities for success in life.


Our ultimate goal is for all our youngsters to develop into balanced individuals who can understand and contribute to our society, and draw upon their internal resources to continue to learn productively over their lifetime. These individuals in turn form a well-trained and versatile workforce which helps Hong Kong thrive, and maintain our competitiveness in a globalised economy and to take full benefit from the immense opportunities of the growing hinterland.


Perhaps I should also take this opportunity to flag up one of the main concerns behind this reform, the money side. It is estimated that the non-recurrent expenditure for the new academic structure will be about $6.7 billion, and an additional year of university studies will cost at least an extra $1.8 billion each year.


Who is going to pay for it? No doubt, the government will continue to invest heavily in education and continue to ensure that no one will be deprived of education through lack of means. However, since we have been running budget deficits these years, we also need to count on parents and students to play their part by bearing a balanced and affordable portion. We hope to receive constructive and innovative ideas and reach a consensus among different parties in the society before we move ahead.


Concluding Remarks


The 3 months consultation on the 3+3+4 reform has ended earlier this week and we are grateful to all the views expressed by headmasters, teachers, parents, students as well as employers, trade organizations and professional bodies.  The media has also played a constructive role in expanding the breadth and depth of the discussion let alone making the debate more lively. Honestly, we treasure every piece of opinion, supportive or otherwise. The views expressed form the basis of our deliberation in reaching a decision on whether and if so how to take forward the reform.  While we are still consolidating the views gathered, I am in deed encouraged by the overwhelming support of the community in the overall direction and the blueprint of our proposals.  This is not a finishing point but the beginning of a long but worthwhile course that the Government, the education sector, the students and their parents, and the community as a whole would have to walk along hand in hand. Soon after we have taken a view on the way forward, we will embark on further discussion and consultation with various stakeholders on the implementation details. I will therefore continue to look to all of you to give us support as we invest in our education and in our future.


Thank you.


Last revision date: 26 January 2005
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