Projects and Events
“Science, Technology and Mathematics Education in the development of the Innovation and Technology Ecosystem of Hong Kong”
5 Jan 2017
Advancement of education and promoting the development of science and technology in Hong Kong are objectives of The Hong Kong Academy of Sciences. To achieve these objectives, we conducted a study on Science, Technology and Mathematics Education since May 2016 and issued a report for the reference and discussion of the public. Based on the findings, we have put forward 5 recommendations for fine tuning the existing education system to allow it to better serve the future development of Hong Kong.
The Executive Summary is given below. The full report, can also be downloaded from the link provided below.
As innovation and technology are being increasingly recognised as the locomotive to drive sustainable development and solve complex global challenges, STEM education has emerged in the top national agenda of many governments in recent years.
Compared to other countries and regions, Hong Kong has top achievement and positive student attitudes towards STEM, as measured by global assessment tests of PISA and TIMSS of students at or below age 15. Such attainments, however, are not being translated into high enrolment in STEM-related subjects at the senior secondary education level. This disconnect is manifested in three main ways:
- STEM education not being extended to all students. Despite the abolition of tracking and the transition into a broad-based education system, almost half of the new senior secondary students in Hong Kong do not take any Science or Technology subject, whereas in the US, Europe and many Asian countries, Science is compulsory and cross-Arts-Science study is part and parcel of many broad-based education systems.
- Poor enrolment in advanced Mathematics studies. Student enrolment in advanced Mathematics dropped from 23% in 2012 to 14% in 2016, relative to 25% of students taking Additional Mathematics before the implementation of the current Diploma for Secondary Education in Hong Kong (HKDSE). It is alarming that Hong Kong students’ participation rate in advanced Mathematics is much lower than that in Singapore and New Zealand (40%) and far behind those in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (57-80%).
- Broad-based scientific training on decline. Innovation and scientific research, as well as the ability to solve complex problems nowadays require multidisciplinary training and possession of so-called “T-shaped” knowledge. However, over two-thirds of HKDSE students took only two Electives, comparing poorly to an average of four subjects in addition to Languages and Mathematics previously (under the HKCEE system). The narrowed knowledge base seriously weakens the foundation required for articulation into post-secondary education.
The lack of a strong manufacturing base and the weak R&D spending by government and corporate bodies are generally believed to have dampened students’ enthusiasm towards STEM in Hong Kong. Consequently, many high-performing students opt to study medicine, business or law at universities, while Faculties of Science and Engineering have relatively more difficulty in attracting students with high academic achievements. This self-perpetuating cycle further weakens the region’s STEM-readiness to “re-industrialise”.
University admission policies also play a pivotal role in shaping student behaviour. Currently, strong emphasis is being placed on the examination results of the four Core Subjects. Thus, the examination-oriented culture among students in Hong Kong compounds with the limited supply of government-funded university places, poor prospects in studying science and engineering, and unfavourable social attitude towards diploma programmes and vocational education as alternative pathways are all contributing factors, leading to narrowing of studies and general risk-aversion among students and, ultimately, impeding their holistic development.
A survey conducted by ASHK on senior secondary school principals finds that STEM enrolment is stymied by two critical factors, including:
- Over-emphasis on Core Subjects. While the Core Subjects in HKDSE were originally designed to provide students with balanced knowledge required for their competencies in their further development, over 55% of the 154 respondents in our survey of secondary school principals (representing 31% of all secondary schools in Hong Kong) reported that they spend over 60% of their normal teaching hours on the four Core Subjects, in which STEM content is relatively low. Moreover, among the 89% of respondents offering after-school-hour classes, 69% named the Core Subjects among the top-three subjects taught after school. This peculiar behaviour is clearly being driven by the local university admission policies.
- Poor recognition of advanced Mathematics. Under the HKDSE, advanced Mathematics under two extended modules, namely M1 and M2, are not offered as full subjects but as “half-courses” to “extend” students’ Mathematics education beyond what is offered in Mathematics under the Core Subjects. Given the tight teaching schedule on Core Subjects, the two extended modules M1 and M2 are often relegated to after-school-hour classes. In addition, not all universities recognise M1/M2 as full Electives or make specific demands on them as admission requirements. These could hardly be incentives for students with high mental and logical capacities to opt for advanced Mathematics given the strenuous efforts required.
Hong Kong needs to build up its innovative capacity and to raise the overall STEM literacy in order to diversify into a knowledge-based economy. As information and technological changes gather pace, the amount of knowledge to be acquired by our next generation is becoming increasingly formidable. While education systems need to respond to the above changes, our assessments and university admission systems also need to adapt and evolve to suit the needs of the new world. As STEM education is an integral component of the ecosystem of innovation and technology, as well as the overall literacy of our knowledge economy, all stakeholders including businesses, governments, non-governmental agencies, students and parents must develop an open mind to embrace new perspectives when designing what is best for our future generations.
To enhance the STEM literacy and raise the science and technology expertise in Hong Kong, we recommend the following:
1. Trim the Core Subject requirement to achieve a balance between Science and Non-Science education. Understanding the physical world and how Science works is essential for one to work and live in the 21st Century, STEM education should constitute an important part of a child’s education. The Core Subjects of the HKDSE curriculum, as designed, offer limited STEM content. To encourage students to broaden their knowledge horizon and to strike a balance between Science and Non-Science subjects in our senior secondary education, the emphasis on Core Subjects needs to be trimmed to make room for more Elective subjects, especially for Science-related subjects.
2. Introduce module flexibility to provide choice for students in choosing Science subjects. Students have wide differences in interests and aptitude in their orientation towards Science subjects. A broad-based education system needs to provide adequate flexibility to cater for students’ learning diversity. Offering Basic and Advanced level syllabuses will enable students to develop breadth and depth, or the so-called T-shaped knowledge that is needed for the 21st Century, while encouraging students to take cross-Arts-Science studies. We recommend an introduction of module flexibility by phase, starting with the Core Subjects, and gradually extend it to the major Elective subjects over time. Module flexibility is best supplemented with flexibility in the assessment system.
3. Give proper recognition to advanced Mathematics to stimulate enrolment. Improved mathematical skills is essential in an increasingly technology-and-data-centric world beyond the traditional boundary of science and engineering. To extend the appeal of advanced Mathematics to a wider group of students and to encourage school provision, it is important to give proper recognition to the subject, which is currently treated as half subjects or extended modules. We recommend putting Mathematics Module 1 and Module 2 back into the Core Subjects, by creating three “alternative” Mathematics Core offerings to cater for students with different study or career pathways. An alternative option would be to place advanced Mathematics as a separate Elective. In either scheme, universities must give clear signals in their admission policies to guide students in their requirement in Mathematics.
4. Universities to review the “3-3-2-2” common minimum entrance requirement and individual programme admission requirements to encourage students to take more Science subjects. University admission policy has a strong impact on senior secondary schools’ curriculum. The current 3-3-2-2 minimum requirement (for the four Core Subjects: Chinese-English-Math-Liberal Studies) for the eight UGC-funded universities and the well-intended “5-best subjects” scoring method for some programmes, have resulted in a disproportionally large amount of time spent on the four Core Subjects, leaving inadequate time for Elective subjects. Universities should be given institutional autonomy in stipulating their minimum entrance requirement. We recommend that universities review their admission policies to enable students to build a strong foundation of scientific knowledge across disciplines. Most important, admission criteria should be aligned to the needs of the individual programmes.
5. Diploma of Secondary School Education. Although there is no ‘passing’ threshold for the HKDSE as originally designed, the introduction of 3-3-2-2 as the minimal requirement for admission to the eight UGC-subvented universities has unintentionally created a new measurement of success, which is unattainable for most school leavers. Therefore, we strongly recommend that proper recognition should be given to students who have attained adequate senior secondary education. The minimal requirement for secondary school graduation should be set with a standard to ensure students attain the necessary core skills and knowledge deemed essential to prepare them for further study or career development. In other words, secondary school certification should be decoupled from tertiary admission standards.
 STEM is an acronym that refers to the academic disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics collectively. In the curriculum context of Hong Kong, STEM education is promoted through Science, Technology and Mathematics Education (Curriculum Development Council of the Education Bureau of the Hong Kong SAR government, November 2015)
 The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a triennial international survey by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students.
 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is a series of international assessments by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement of the Mathematics and Science knowledge of students around the world.
 Under the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE), which was a standard school-leaving examination for students who finished five years of secondary school between 1974 and 2011.
 HKCEE Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (1974-2011).
 The four Core Subjects under HKDSE are Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies