192nd Congregation and Certificate and Prize Presentation Ceremony (Morning Session) Faculty of Education
Organised by The University of Hong Kong
Speech by Dr York Y.N. CHOW, Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission
Members of the Education Faculty;
Graduates and friends,
First, my hearty congratulations to the new graduates. Today, we gather to recognise your hard work and efforts. I am delighted to be here to celebrate your accomplishments. Thank you for inviting me.
I must be humble here and admit that I was not a very strong student as a young boy. In fact, I received zero marks in dictation throughout primary school, because I was quite stubborn and refused to recite any assigned passages or texts. My teachers used to seat me with the female students, in the hope that it would make me more attentive in class. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder was not a common term in those years.
So I find it rather amusing that I am now in a position to offer advice to future educators about their future in education. But I hope that in sharing my story with you today, it might remind you of some important lessons as you embark on this next chapter of your life.
At the age of 14, I began to take my education more seriously – and it was all because of one teacher. At the time, around the middle of the term, I was ranked 32nd out of 35 students. Some teachers may have thrown up their hands and written me off. But this teacher believed in me, and urged me to believe in my own capabilities. He told me I was a real disgrace to my father, who was a senior educator at the time, and I was capable of doing far better than what I was achieving, but I had to apply myself. Given this encouragement, I started to work harder, and by the final exam, I was ranked top of my class. I was then assigned to the class of elite students, and went on to medical school here at this university, and continued onto a varied and interesting career. Through it all, I remained committed to bettering myself through continuous learning.
I share this story to illustrate a point. Education is so much more than instilling knowledge. Education is, and should be, about inspiration. Now, more than ever, knowledge is so readily available via the internet. Every child now knows that, through a few clicks and keywords, a vast amount of data is available, free of charge, for everyone to access.
With so much information at hand, I think the younger generation can see clearly what they feel is “the ideal society,” and they have many tools to help them to demand it. But the ability to demand the ideal does not necessarily translate to an understanding of how to achieve it. Many young people may end up feeling frustrated and disillusioned, because their dreams cannot be realized.
So an educator’s role is to motivate his or her students to find the right knowledge and information, and to use such knowledge to plan for their own futures and lives.
But what is the right knowledge?
Our world is rapidly changing, with enormous social consequences. More than any point in our history, we are more closely connected. Borders are more porous. People are communicating every day across vast distances and varying cultural backgrounds. In this new globalised world, we need to impart to our next generation the necessary skills to enable them to position themselves in a multi-cultural group, to build trust and supportive networks.
This is what educators can do to help – to teach their charges to have an open mind, a caring heart and avoid making assumptions about others. These are the basic foundation of cross-cultural competence. This is what will enable them to succeed in the 21st century society.
As a boy, I had friends from many different backgrounds. My badminton partner was Indian, while my very best friend was from Pakistan. In fact, eating his mother’s cooking at his house instilled in me a love for good curry. My classmates were from Malaysia, Thailand, Portugal, and other countries. I had friends who had disabilities and learning difficulties. We were a motley bunch, and I am still in touch with many of them today.
Through this experience, I learned very quickly about the values of diversity and inclusion. Although I was not strong academically, I was a fierce believer in treating others with equality and respect. I often stood up for people when they faced bullies, and offered help in any way that I can to those who may have needed assistance.
Certainly, these values have served me well later in life. As a doctor, I treated patients from all backgrounds, from millionaires to street sleepers, with equal treatment and care. And as a parent of two daughters who are now in their twenties, I gave careful consideration to the learning environment when picking their schools. My wife and I wanted them to enjoy a diverse school atmosphere, where they can have friends from various backgrounds, and where they can nurture and welcome the values of equality and inclusion. In other words, I wanted them to be well-equipped, through their educational journey, to be citizens of the 21st century global society.
As educators, you all will have great influence over the next generation, through your own actions in cultivating an inspiring and diverse learning environment.
I believe the first step to doing this is for you, as educators, to embody and embrace equal opportunities in education.
At the moment, many students in Hong Kong still struggle for equal opportunities in education, perhaps due to their race, disability, or sexual orientation. Indeed, this is a priority area of concern for us at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).
For instance, according to a 2013 study conducted by the Hong Kong Institute of Education, only 4% of ethnic-Pakistani youths aged between 19 to 22 are receiving university education here or abroad, compared to 29% of Chinese youths. A major part of the problem stems from the lack of support for ethnic minorities to learn Chinese. Their struggle to access higher education has long-term impact on their future prospects and leaves them with limited social mobility. Many children who attend mainstream, Chinese-medium schools also face bullying and indifference due to cultural and language barriers. Parents of these students have told us how deeply discouraged they feel to watch their children struggle, without being able to communicate with the teachers and get help.
The situation is also bleak for students with special educational needs. The EOC conducted a study in 2012, which revealed that only about half of teachers had attended any special education training courses or training in inclusive education. Consequently, many teachers may not feel equipped to assist students with special needs and do not feel sufficiently supported with necessary resources. The students may then be left behind in the classroom – our study showed that around 30% of the students with special needs could not grasp learning skills such as note-taking, problem-solving and learning independently.
These are just a few of the groups that continue to face severe disadvantage in the current education system. As the next movers and shakers in the education field, you have the power to make a real difference.
For instance, some of you may become teachers and school administrators. I hope you will ensure that the campus is a safe, bullying-free, and nurturing environment for all to learn, and for friendships to flourish across different backgrounds. I hope that you will make a point to teach your students to respect differences, both inside and outside of the classrooms, and seek out dynamic connections to one another. And I hope you will take the time to engage and involve parents across potential cultural divides. Indeed, many parents face even higher hurdles than their children, who may have been born here and are more adaptable.
Others of you may go on to develop educational policies and curriculum. I hope you would bear in mind the importance of learning about other cultures and banishing stereotypes, and integrate such lessons as foundations of our children’s educational programme. I hope you would make sure that values such as inclusion, compassion, and social justice are mainstreamed into the students’ thinking and mindset. And for those of you who may be involved in educational assessment and evaluation, I hope you will look at how to keep the assessments relevant for our ever-changing, increasingly diverse society, and ensure that our next generation is well-prepared to face the future.
Indeed, a community can only be considered progressive if they can care for those most vulnerable among them. No matter what wealth or knowledge a society accumulates, if we cannot take care of the disadvantaged, then we must question the usefulness of that knowledge towards our collective development.
I always believe teachers and doctors are professionals sharing societal missions. As a medical doctor, our biggest satisfaction is being able to bring our patients back to health and to continue their work and desired lifestyle. As a teacher, I trust your ultimate satisfaction is being able to guide children to a developmental path so they can pursue a meaningful life with purpose while maximizing their potential.
As you go forth to shape the future of our educational sector, I hope you will recall the ultimate aim we all share: to prepare our young people to be responsible, compassionate, and respectful citizens of a diverse and inter-connected society. I am certain that this is a task you will undertake skillfully, given all that you have learned here from this very fine institution.
Once again, allow me extend to you my congratulations for your accomplishments thus far. Thank you, and I wish you all every success.