The Heart of Education

Professor Way Kuo, University President, highlights Hong Kong’s education issues and shares some of his encounters with disadvantaged students

Professor Kuo visits grassroots families every year to know the needs of the students and their parents.

While the primary task of teachers is to pursue innovation and nurture the next generation, administrators should prioritise the future needs of society, the orientation of education and the mission of a university in an effort to promote social advancement, according to Professor Way KUO, University President.

According to Professor Kuo, the integration of teaching with research, and the emphasis on discovery and innovation are not only the basic requirements for teachers, but also an important teaching philosophy for educating students. This is why CityU has implemented a series of initiatives, to encourage faculties to incorporate innovative research into their teaching and to help their students make discoveries, create new knowledge and realise their potential. It also cultivates in students a sense of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, and prompts them to participate in original research.

“Education is a means to advancement,” he says. “We should avoid platitudes and make sure that our programmes stay relevant. Course structure should not cherish ‘form’ and neglect practicality. Rather than encouraging students to take less practical classes merely to earn enough credits for a diploma, why not offer more opportunities for internships and exchanges?”

He adds that cultivating students’ drive to explore and innovate, as well as encouraging them to extend their knowledge through investigation, was even more important than imparting new knowledge.

“Our students pick up skills and insights useful to life-long learning in the quest for enquiry and critical thinking at CityU,” he says.

Professor Kuo believes overseas exchanges offer great opportunities for broadening horizons and learning from hands-on experience. That’s why he strongly supports the University’s exchange programmes, calling on departments to set specific goals and help students, including those with disabilities and other special educational needs, to get more involved.

The memory of a visually impaired student who yearned to join an overseas exchange programme is imprinted on Professor Kuo’s mind. Thanks to the joint efforts of Professor Kuo and CityU’s Global Services Office, a US internship made this student’s dream come true.

CityU has spared no effort in supporting students with special educational needs. Professor Kuo recalled a student called SZE Po-yan, who did her best to complete her degree in Chinese studies despite having advanced cancer. Po-yan often missed classes due to her illness, but CityU supported her with online lectures and faculty teaching her at her home. During her last days, Professor Kuo awarded Po-yan a graduation certificate at her hospital bedside, fulfilling Po-yan’s greatest wish.

With the best interests of underprivileged students steadfastly in mind, Professor Kuo conducts home visits every year. These trips help him to understand better the needs of students and how best to provide more practical help.

“I remember a student, Kiki, who suffered from a rare genetic neuromuscular disorder, whose symptoms were similar to those of muscle atrophy, refused to depend on others and instead relied on her own strength,” Professor Kuo says. “Her strong willpower earned my deepest respect.”

During our interview, Professor Kuo elaborated on some current education issues afflicting society. He discussed how Hong Kong has an extremely high Gini coefficient and one of the highest poverty rates in the world. The government’s short-term palliatives had done little to support local social work and poverty alleviation efforts, and the wealth gap was widening day by day, he says.

By way of illustration, he points out that the average national income in the US ranges from between US$45,000 and US$50,000 per year, with university graduates earning that amount on average, too. But in Hong Kong, the situation is less attractive for graduates. Although the average income in Hong Kong is around US$42,000 per annum, Hong Kong’s graduates earn 60% of that figure, which amounts to around HK$15,000 per month. Professor Kuo believes this income issue lies at the heart of grassroots family issues. Because society has not addressed the problem with any real success, the current initiatives seem futile. So he believes the government should focus on youth employment and channel more effort into raising salaries to a reasonable level.

Professor Kuo repeatedly stresses the significance of practical solutions and solid action for the kinds of issues raised during the interview.

There is too much talk and not enough action, he says.

Education is a means to advancement. We should avoid platitudes and make sure that our programmes stay relevant

Professor Way Kuo