Monday, July 31, 2006

Hard-working Students in China

Students in Hong Kong are some of the hardest-working in the world. But I just found that students in China work even harder. During the earlier trip to Hubei, I learned that many students have no summer vacations.

Normally the high school students there have a summer break from mid July to end of August, similar to secondary schools in Hong Kong. But for students admitted into some of the high schools (equivalent to grade 10-12, or form 4-6 in Hong Kong), they are required to attend classes throughout summer. During the regular school term, there are no classes on weekends. However, during summer, such restrictions do not apply; so the students have to attend classes even on weekends. Classes start in the morning, continue after lunch, and go on even after dinner – for seven days a week. And this happens under 35 degree Celsius weather, in class rooms with no air-conditioning.

Even the headmaster of the school we visited said he pitied the students, who “get so tired”! No kidding.


Jared Diamond, in his bestseller “Collapse”, described in fascinating detail how the leaders of some declining societies behaved. Easter Island chiefs erected ever larger statues. Anasazi elites treated themselves to necklaces of 2,000 turquoise beads. Maya kings sought to outdo each other with more and more impressive temples. All these societies collapsed.

Hong Kong is facing very tough challenges. We have lost our low-cost manufacturing capabilities. Our labor is expensive. Our land is scarce and expensive. Our creative industries are struggling. Our education system is not producing the kind of students needed to compete in the global economy. Our health care system is stretched to the limit. Our environment is suffering.

Yet we are erecting ever grander government offices as monuments. I hope that further Jared Diamonds will not lump twenty-first century Hong Kong together with Easter Island, Anasazi, and Maya as societies that use their resources in conspicuous consumption rather than dealing with serious challenges.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Service Learning in Hubei

In the middle of July a colleague and I took 10 of our students at the PolyU to a city in Hubei for a week. There we joined another group from a Hong Kong church to run a summer camp, organized for local (Hubei) junior high school students. The church team taught phonics and we taught Flash and robot programming in support of the English learning.

It is a form of “service learning” that is now increasingly popular in many countries all over the world. In this case, our students learn and practice new computing skills, learn to teach and interact with Chinese students, interact with each other and the church team, spend a week in a city in China which they would not normally visit, and have great fun in the process.

It was hot! Daytime temperature was about 35 degrees Celsius. Even in the air conditioned classrooms, it was 30 degrees. But it was fun. HuangShi is one of the largest cities in Hubei, after Wuhan. Some of the local kids were mostly from relatively well-to-do families - it was obvious from their rosy round cheeks and healthy appearance. (The team sent to another, more rural school reported that the kids there were much poorer, but worked much harder in their studies.)

They were curious and eager. They were very interested in knowing about Hong Kong, about other cities in China, about universities, about foreign countries. They wanted to go to universities but to come home to HuangShi. A girl was interested in literature and wanted to go to Oxford. Another wanted to be an explorer.

They were also interested in Christianity. They felt they are free to believe in what they want and some have been to local churches. Many know, to differing degrees, about Christmas, Easter and Jesus. If you wish to know more about this aspect of the trip, send me email.

Our university students behaved admirably. They were fun-loving and energetic, resourceful, disciplined, demonstrated great teamwork among themselves, and mixed well with the church team as well as the local kids. They are students that we, as their teachers, can be proud of.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

1st July March for Universal Suffrage

The 1st July March has become a Hong Kong tradition since that first one in 2003, as a popular way to voice dissatisfaction with the government. For a while this year I wasn’t sure I wanted to participate because it wasn’t clear what the focus was. Then in the past 2 weeks it became clear that it would focus on demanding for universal suffrage, something I can clearly identify with.

My daughters, like many HongKongers, doubted the usefulness of the march, since the government was not likely to give us universal suffrage anytime soon, if ever. My response is that I should do something if I believe in it strongly enough, even if it seems impossible. If enough people work hard and long enough, the impossible will become possible. If we all wait for the impossible to become possible, they will also remain impossible. Universal suffrage will not solve all our problems, but it is better than what we have presently, and no more than what we deserve.

Eventually our two younger daughters came with me and my wife to Victoria Park before 3 PM. By then more than 2 of the 4 soccer fields were filled. It was really hot. The sun was beating down, everybody was sweating profusely - including many trendily-dressed young people. But all waited patiently, nobody complained. People with umbrellas tried to shade those standing nearby without being asked. There was a quiet camaraderie that was quite moving, and worthy of the hours of sweating and sun-baking by itself.

The first marchers started from Victoria Park at about 3:30PM. Our family started at about 4:15PM and arrived at Central about 6PM. How many people marched? The average between the numbers claimed by the organizers and the police was about 40,000. To me, marching in the crowd, it felt like a lot of people anyway