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Speech at 85th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association cum YWCA Hioe Tjo Yoeng College's New Wing Dedication and 31st Speech Day

85th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association cum YWCA Hioe Tjo Yoeng College 's New Wing Dedication and
31st Speech Day
10 December 2005

Speech by Professor Arthur K C Li
Secretary for Education and Manpower


Mrs Leong, Rev Wu, Mrs Lau, Mr Yeung, distinguished guests, parents, teachers and students,


               It gives me great pleasure to join you this afternoon to celebrate three important events -- the 85th Anniversary of the Hong Kong Young Women's Christian Association, the 31st Anniversary Speech Day of the YWCA Hioe Tjo Yoeng College and the dedication of the school’s new wing.  This is indeed a landmark in the history of Hong Kong YWCA, as well as the school. 


               The YWCA was first established in 1855, by Lady Kinnaird and Ms Emma Robarts, in London .  The former provided Homes for young ladies who left their homes to work in factories or followed Florence Nightingale to serve in battlefields.  The latter led a Prayer Union for women.  The two groups later joined hands to become the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) -- combining religious fervor with social activities.  The movement spread to many countries thereafter.  Nowadays, YWCAs are established in over a hundred countries throughout the world.


               The Hong Kong YWCA was founded 85 years ago to meet social needs.  Today, the Association has blossomed into a multi-service organization, with 60 centres all over Hong Kong to serve our community ranging from infants to senior citizens.


               Secondary education was one of the many community services provided by the Hong Kong YWCA.  The YWCA Hioe Tjo Yoeng College was established thirty five years ago by the directors of the Hong Kong YWCA in response to the rising need for secondary schooling in the seventies.  The College was initially conceived as a girls’ school.  The school became a co-educational college for all teenagers in 1971. 


               Throughout the years, with the continuous support of the sponsoring body and parents, as well as the dedicated efforts of the principals and teachers, the school has shown its strength and capacity in striving for excellence.  The school has built on its heritage, and developed a reputation for quality education, with a mission to nurture students to become an all-round person with strong Christian values.


              Boys and girls, you have been the students of Hioe Tjo Yoeng for five or seven years.  I am sure you know your school motto, "Think Critically and be Moral" by heart.  Indeed, critical thinking is accorded a very significant position in our education reform.  It is one of the nine generic skills we wish to foster among our students.  Now I wish to share with you my views about critical thinking.


               To start with, let us think about this era of information explosion.  Think about the large number of search results during Internet surfing.  Think about the attractive advertisements which try to sell you their products.  How do you make a good choice, a correct judgment or differentiate between true and false?  Critical thinking is the basic skill vital for you to face these challenges.  Critical thinking is a process by which we use our intelligence and knowledge to arrive at reasonable, rational and justifiable conclusions. 


               Let me share with you a true story about critical thinking in an important event in medical history.  Nowadays we all know the importance of washing our hands to keep germs away, especially during the highly alarming period of SARS.  It is hard to imagine a time when people are not aware of this.  In the mid-nineteenth century, even the best medical doctors in Vienna did not know it, and they were literally killing their patients because they were not washing their hands. 


               In the 1840s, Ignaz Semmelweis, a doctor at the Vienna General Hospital , noted the high death rate of women during childbirth caused by childbirth fever.  For years, doctors postulated many theories, blaming the mother's milk, bad ventilation, congested rooms, and other irrelevant factors for the large number of deaths in hospitals.  However, despite many eminent doctors’ belief that childbirth fever was not preventable, Semmelweis believed that there should be a plausible explanation of the source of childbirth fever.  He noticed that the death rate was higher among women who delivered in the hospital than among those who gave birth at home.  Moreover, the death rate in the Second Ward was only one-third that of the First Ward.  The First Ward was used for training medical students while the Second only midwives.  Unbelievable as it seems, medical professors and their students did not wash their hands between doing an autopsy and delivering a baby.


               Being a keen observer who kept careful records, Semmelweis conjectured, logically, that childbirth fever was somehow passed to women from their doctors.  He found that the number of cases was drastically reduced if he washed his hands carefully between autopsy work and the examination of pregnant women.  The incident of childbirth fever remained low as long as the routine of hand washing was enforced.  Semmelweis became extremely popular because of the low mortality rate of his patients.


               Unfortunately, his findings were not well received by the medical community.  He was accused of slandering the medical profession by implying that doctors by not washing their hands were causing the deaths of their patients.  It was also argued that even if his findings were correct, washing one's hands each time before treating a pregnant woman would be too much work.  Of course, no doctor was willing to admit that they had caused so many deaths.  At one stage he was put into a lunatic asylum!  It was only after Semmelweis's death that the germ theory of disease developed and the antiseptic era begun.  Semmelweis is now recognized as a pioneer of modern medicine.


               What does the story tell us?  Semmelweis discovered that the lack of physician hygiene was the cause of killing mothers giving birth.  With skeptical attitude, careful observation, experience and knowledge, he based his theory on well-supported reasons.  Despite the attack by other doctors, he had the moral courage to stand by his judgment and challenged the establishment.  He was indeed one of the important figures in the history of preventative medicine.  I hope his story can be an inspiration to you all.        


               Finally, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations to each and every one of the graduates and prize-winners today.  Always have in mind your school motto, "Think Critically and be Moral".  Always act in this spirit; whether you are at school or at work.  Always stand up to your beliefs.  My congratulations must also go to the teachers, who have nurtured our students and helped them to realise their potentials. 


               I must also take this opportunity to congratulate the Hong Kong YWCA and YWCA Hioe Tjo Yoeng College on this happy occasion and wish them further success in the years ahead.  To all of you, my best wishes for good health and happiness and a very Merry Christmas & happy New Year.


               Thank you.

Last revision date: 10 December 2005
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