Young people could cultivate their critical thinking and creativity skills if they had more opportunities to study by themselves, according to the President of City University of Hong Kong (CityU).
In his talk on 22 March at the 2014 Forum of the Teachers’ Professional Experience Sharing Month, Professor Way Kuo said a recent European IQ research report had ranked Hong Kong people among the highest in the world in terms of average Intelligence Quotient (IQ).
However, Professor Kuo said many people in Hong Kong did not necessarily use their IQ as well as they could.
“Most parents make their children go to extra-curricular classes, ranging from academic make-up classes, special interest groups, arts and music or sports classes, because they are worried their kids might fall behind,” he said.
But he said youngsters should be given adequate room to cultivate the ability for self-study and develop their own interests instead of being kept on a short-leash through such extra classes, which often deprive them of opportunities for fun.
He then compared the different lengths of semesters in mainland China (21 weeks), Hong Kong (15 weeks) and the US (12 to 13 weeks).
“Americans are known for their inventions and innovations even though they have the shortest semesters and work fewer hours, whereas Hong Kong people have not come up with any major breakthroughs in inventions in spite of their high average IQs and longer working hours. The key lies in the way our education system emphasises passing on knowledge, sometimes outdated knowledge, at the expense of cultivating critical thinking and creativity. Students are rarely interested in participating in extra-curricular exploratory lectures,” he said.
He explained that innovative research encompassed the liberal arts and humanities and not just the natural sciences and technology. “Research is not about writing papers,” he said. “It is about keeping alive your curiosity, and solving real problems for the advancement of society.”
Professor Kuo cited the way Finland canned sardines as an example of innovation for improving people’s lives. The Finns use birch bark as an environmentally friendly way of canning fish. All you need do to make a hot, tasty sardine dish is set fire to the actual can, which burns and cooks the food, with no waste.