How Hong Kong can encourage the next generation of problem-solvers

webnexttech | How Hong Kong can encourage the next generation of problem-solvers

On February 27, the demonstration flight of an air taxi from Shenzhen to Zhuhai took just 20 minutes, faster than the three-hour journey by land. If the service is approved for operation, a one-way ticket is estimated to cost up to 300 yuan (US$42) per passenger. This would mean a more comfortable, faster and still affordable option for residents within the Greater Bay Area development zone. Consulting firm McKinsey estimates that we will need at least 60,000 new air taxi pilots worldwide by 2028. Air taxis are part of the emerging low-altitude economy which could be worth US$9 trillion by 2050, according to investment bank Morgan Stanley. Whether it’s driverless cars, artificial intelligence, the metaverse or the low-altitude economy, the evolution of technology has raised people’s expectations. Hong Kong is not only taking on the mission of becoming a global innovation and technology (I&T) hub, but also playing the roles of “superconnector” and “super value-adder”. As a teacher, I think uplifting young people’s analytical and problem-solving skills is vital. STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education was proposed as one of the eight major directions to promote I&T development in the 2017 policy address. Since 2016, funding has been allocated for primary and secondary schools to strengthen STEM and later STEAM with the addition of letter “a” for the arts. STEAM education’s goal is to promote problem-solving, innovative thinking and practical skills by integrating and applying multidisciplinary knowledge. We should not expect quick success but with billions of public funds being invested, the effectiveness of STEAM is undoubtedly gaining traction. Based on calculations of Diploma of Secondary Education registration statistics, the number of candidates taking non-compulsory mathematics modules was about 14 per cent in 2017 and almost 16 per cent in 2023. In 2024, even with fewer candidates in total, the students registered in non-compulsory mathematics modules increased to more than 19 per cent, with the number of the applicants exceeding 9,000. It’s really a pleasant surprise. While we hope to see more students interested in these subjects, we should also look to advance our education system. A Legislative Council report points out that since STEAM is an emerging field, schools and teachers have faced many challenges with its implementation such as insufficient training for educators. STEAM education is designed to help students develop their ability to solve real-life problems through interdisciplinary learning so it is important that the content is linked to real life. The Legco report acknowledges measures implemented in Singapore, which repeatedly performs well in international assessments such as PISA. This is worthy of our reference. I am particularly interested in Singapore’s emphasis on ensuring the curriculum is relevant to real-life situations. In addition to letting other institutions and STEM experts participate in the curriculum, since 2022, the Singaporean government has begun allowing teachers to be temporarily transferred to the technology sector for two to four weeks to deepen their knowledge of the industry. Through partnerships with the scientific and business communities, the government ensures that “its STEM education is in line with the latest technology and relevant to real life”. This includes matching each secondary school “with one industry partner to provide advice” and share experience regarding careers in innovation and technology. Further, to solve real-life problems, one needs to collect, process and interpret data as well make decisions afterwards. As almost 60 per cent of data is estimated to be location-centric, geospatial intelligence is becoming essential. This is why I started promoting geographic information systems (GIS) more than 20 years ago. GIS combines spatial geography knowledge, statistics, mathematics and modelling. This advanced tool allows us to integrate information in different formats such as text, LIDAR, the cloud and video, among others. GIS can also be analysed and visualised on a map, which enables people to quickly grasp the nature of situations, helping many governments and enterprises make better decisions. Meanwhile, it is very important to equip the younger generation to meet the challenges of smart city development and actively expand the new economy. I think it is crucial for young people to learn GIS to uplift their analytical ability. In 2015, I started to promote GIS to local primary and secondary school students with a programme called Map in Learning, allowing students to use professional GIS software ArcGIS Online free of charge. Today, more than 200 schools have participated in the programme which has trained nearly 2,000 teachers and students. Since 2017, we have held the annual Esri Young Scholars Award to encourage tertiary students to analyse topics of their choice using GIS. In 2022, we established the GIS Academy in Hong Kong to gather and nurture talented students. In today’s rapidly changing and often dizzying world, people need to be better at data analytics and geospatial awareness. Therefore, I hope the education authorities will incorporate GIS into STEAM as soon as possible to enrich the problem-solving skills of young people, expand the local talent pool and work with everyone to build an advanced smart city. Dr Winnie Tang is an adjunct professor at the University of Hong Kong

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