Hundreds of primary and secondary school students came to our campus today to participate in a robotics competition based on the LEGO Mindstorm kit. We have been organizing this competition for many years now and it has always been a lot of fun, although it has also been a lot of work. It is good to see so many kids being so keen on something involving mechanics, engineering, and programming. A primary 4 boy that I talked to said he liked robots and mathematics, even though he could not quite explain why. I hope he retains his enthusiasm.
Fewer Hong Kong students nowadays are so keen to study science and engineering in university. The reasons may vary. But some seem to be influenced by the perception that “technical” subjects such as mathematics, science and engineering are difficult, that “softer” subjects such as management are somehow easier, and that there are fewer jobs available in science and engineering. In the long run, it cannot be good for Hong Kong.
A couple of years ago I happened to be in Atlanta in Georgia, USA, when they held a national robot competition for secondary schools students. It was actually 3 competitions of robots at differing sizes rolled into 1. The one at the smallest size was the one based on LEGO Mindstorm - the robots were no more than 1 foot in size, made of plastic, weightedno more than a couple of pounds, and fell apart easily. The largest robots were about 4 feet long, with 6 big wheels, made of metal, probably weighted close to a hundred pounds, and practically indestructible. There were thousands of students, teachers, and parents in the gigantic stadium. The competitions last for several days, with a festive atmosphere. The crowd seemed to have even taken over a sizable part of the city, with restaurants advertising especially towards them.
The size of the competition and the obvious enthusiasm were indicative of the strength of science and engineering in the American education system. And it goes a long way in explaining why the Americans keep coming up with the most innovative technologies and products. By admitting defeat in science and engineering, we are condemning ourselves to merely providing service to the innovators and creators of real value.