Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Service-Learning Progress

In December 2010, our university’s senate approved the proposal to make service-learning a compulsory credit-bearing subject for undergraduate students in 4-year bachelor programs starting in 2012.  At that time we had no such subjects.  So we started to design them.  In summer 2011, I co-taught the first service-learning subject, as a pilot.  In 2011-12, we continued to pilot several more subjects - offered them to the students in the then 3-year bachelor programs.  

In 2012-13, we offered them for real to the first batch of 4-year bachelor degree students.  There were only 6 such subjects with 189 students.  In 2013-14, we offered 38 subjects to about 2,000 students.  In 2014-15, we expect to offer 50+ subjects to approximately 3,000 students.  In 2015-16, we expect to offer ~70 subjects to ~4,000 students.  In 2016, the first such batch of students will graduate.  We will have achieved steady state by then - until the policy changes again.  

If we are not running the largest such programs in the world, we should be pretty close.  Amazing, isn’t it?

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Rice from Cambodia

When we went to Cambodia on a service-learning project in June, the rainy season has just started, and the Cambodia farmers were planting rice.  

Last week, some of our Cambodian partners came to attend the International Conference on Service-Learning.  And they brought a bag of newly harvested rice for me.  How thoughtful of them.  

In 2010, we went to Cambodia for the first time,, with 20 students. We installed some computers, set up some networks, and taught a few workshops on information technology at a number of community centers.  By 2014, we have grown to 85 students, with a contingent of 100 people.  Our services range from solar panels, a computer laboratory in a suitcase in a tuk-tuk, an e-microscope based on an iPAD, digital storytelling, guest house management training, …, to eye examinations. It has become our flagship program, attracting attention from across South-East Asia to as far as the USA. We now have many partners there.  It has become a training ground for our staff on service-learning, and much more. 

The seeds planted are bearing fruit.  We are thankful to God who led us there.  Many challenges remain ahead, yet we are hopeful because God is reliable.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Occupy Admiralty - New Thinking?

The crowd at Admiralty does not seem any smaller.  

They remain very passionate, hardworking, and creative.  

I believe most people in Hong Kong agree with what they demand - more open elections and more democracy.  

However, more and more people seem also to feel that continuing in this way will not achieve the goal, at least not at the moment.  

I think we the Hong Kong people have demonstrated our desire for democracy, our will to maintain discipline and our ability to remain peaceful in front of overwhelming and unreasonable power.   

At this point, it may be more productive to seek other ways forward.  Perhaps it is worth considering whether there is some way to open up the system of functional constituencies, to achieve a more open election?  Perhaps some smaller constituencies should not have too many votes?  Perhaps persons who own multiple companies should not have multiple votes?  Perhaps it should not just be company owners, but employees also, who can vote?  ...

Perhaps there are more ways to achieve open elections and democracy?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Capital in Hong Kong

Thomas Piketty’s “CAPITAL in the Twenty-First Century” makes a convincing case that inequality in USA is getting worse in the past 30 years.  It is now just as bad as in Europe 100 years ago, at the eve of the First World War.  
How is it in Hong Kong?  I have not seen equivalent studies.  But I suspect it is not any better.  Hong Kong’s superrich are still a bit below the level of the superrich in the USA.  On the other hand, the poor in Hong Kong are most likely worse off than their counterparts in the USA.  

According to Piketty and many other economists, a progressive income tax is the best way to address that widening inequality.  Based on this analysis, the situation is Hong Kong is likely to be worse.  Hong Kong does not really have a progressive tax system.  The rich also have many more ways to reduce the amount of tax that they have to pay.  

I am not optimistic that anyone will be able to analysis the situation in Hong Kong soon.  To do that you need access to tax data.  Given that our government tends to be friendly to the pro-establishment and vice versa, it is unlikely that it will make the data available to those who might come up with unfavourable conclusions.  

Note: Those buildings, people, ... in the photos are, obviously, miniatures. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Capital in the Twenty-first Century

Occupy Central demands a more open and democratic election for the Chief Executive. Underlying the anger, however, is disgust at the pervasive inequality in Hong Kong.  The political process is tightly controlled by pro-Beijing forces, while practically everyone is squeezed dry by the few superrich.  The two issues, of course, are intertwined.  The Communists came to power through violent revolutions, and maintains it through dictatorial power.   The superrich, on the other hand, rides on a historical tide - and being cozy with the Communists.  

Thomas Piketty’s “CAPITAL in the Twenty-First Century” draws on a huge amount of data to explain the historical tide.  Capital, in the form of real estate and financial assets, generates average returns of ~5% averaging over the long term.  Large fortunes, such as those owned by the superrich of Hong Kong, generates returns as high as 8%.  

On the other hand, labour income grows at ~1% over the long term.  Hence those who can accumulate or inherit a significant amount of capital will get richer and richer exponentially, compared to those whose income consists mainly of salary from labour.  The gap between those who have and those who have-not will just get wider and wider. 

In 2010, the top 10% owns 70%, the middle 40% owns 25%, and the bottom 50% owns 5% of the wealth in the USA.  The top 1% alone owns 35%, while the bottom 50% owns practically nothing.  The book provides no data for Hong Kong.  I suspect the picture is probably not too different in Hong Kong.  

This is the historical tide that is very hard to change, which is obviously unsustainable in the long run.  The anger will built up to such an extent that society will fall apart, which we may be witnessing in Hong Kong already.   According to Piketty, the best solution is a progressive tax on capital, which taxes the larger pools of capital at a higher rate, to be re-distributed to the poor.  On the one hand, it reins in the exponential growth of capital. On the other hand, it enables the poor to reduce the wealth gap.  

As long as the rich controls the government, however, there is little hope of that happening in Hong Kong.  That’s why democracy is so crucial.  

Occupy Admiralty - Nov 2

When one looks at the 1,000 tents there, there is a festive atmosphere to it.  It is hard to see how it is going to end, but I am not very optimistic.  Not when Beijing seems so determined to vilify it, and so many pro-establishment types so eager to offer their help.   

I have heard that creativity is not born of leisure and comfort.  

But rather of necessity and hardship.  There is plenty of creative tent designs.   

Lots of handicrafts and art installations. 

There is a lot of creative protests against injustice, such as the completely wrapped real estate market.  

Creative ways to teach practical English. 

It has also been said the goodness of human nature shines through adversity.  There is also plenty of evidence of that here.  Much has already been said of the discipline of the students.  Many are studying.  Many chip in tremendous effort to help them, putting up tables and chairs, tents, food and water, tutorial help, ...

A Catholic priest celebrates a mass behind a bunch of tents.  

People donate tents, food, water, their skills, their time.  

There is, however, also darkness - mainly from the anti-Occupy side.  Such as the dark corner behind a building in the park where a member of the Civic Party (who is a social worker and a member of the Election Committee representing the social welfare sector) was beaten by the police.  It looked bright and sunny when I was there on Sunday afternoon.  But in the darkness of the evening, bad things happened.