香港直到賽馬會推出「運算思維」計劃才算是與世界潮流接了軌。是因為香港人不夠聰明、沒有想到嗎？看來似乎不是。根據美國網媒 Gazatte Review 2016年的最新統計，香港人的平均智商（IQ） 在世界上排名第一。抑或是因為香港地方太小、人口太少？似乎也說不通。世界上第一個將運算思維和編程教育列為中小學必修課的國家是東歐的愛沙尼亞，人口僅僅1.3百萬。依我看，主要還是心態問題。很多人缺乏冒險、創新精神，寧可安心做「老二」，也不願承擔風險做第一。如果這樣的心態不改變，談論香港的創新和創意只會是一句漂亮的口號。
What else should we heed when pursuing computational thinking education?
I participated in a launching ceremony for the Cool Think@JC scheme on 15 November. With funding support of HK$216 million from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, the scheme will enable a total of 32 local primary schools to purchase classroom equipment, develop evidence-based teaching materials and provide over 100 teachers with the necessary training in computational thinking.
The speakers' comments and discussion at the ceremony reminded me of the "whole-person education" concept widely promoted in Hong Kong universities. By definition, whole-person education refers to a holistic approach that fosters spiritual, intellectual, physical and human development among students in addition to providing them with professional knowledge and skills. It has always been my belief that a person's worldview and values develop from childhood. It might be too late if we wait till kids are in their late teens to promote whole-person education. For lack of a better comparison, it is like spring chicken, which is known for its tenderness and delicious taste. It is usually butchered when it's about one month old. How can we get tender meat if the chick is to be butchered when it's older?
The ability and process of using one's mind to consider or reason about something is a human attribute. Computational thinking is closely related to our life. We resort to computational thinking for planning our travels, arranging a long sequence of events, listing different steps in a recipe, for instance; we also use computational thinking, characterised by its logical and systematic thinking, in various professional areas, such as mathematics, physics, architecture, humanities and business, etc. In the digital era of the 21th century, with increasing internet coverage and advanced information technology, it is definitely a new world trend to promote computational thinking among youngsters. In that sense, the Jockey Club-supported Cool Think@JC project is undoubtedly a visionary initiative. The over 16,500 upper primary school students who stand to benefit will be able to receive the necessary training, including coding training, and enhance their computational thinking capabilities, i.e., their capabilities to solve problems using informational methods.
But at the same time, it also dawned on me that computational thinking was proposed as early as 2006. By October 2015, 16 countries and regions in Europe had made computational thinking and coding compulsory in secondary and primary schools. Some cities in the US and Australia also have plans to launch coding education starting from 2018. In Asia, countries and regions that have incorporated computational thinking in schools include Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.
Hong Kong will keep abreast of this world trend thanks to The Cool Think@JC scheme. But why has Hong Kong come relatively late to this idea? Is it because Hong Kong people are not intelligent enough to welcome something new? It doesn't seem to be the case. According to latest 2016 report from Gazette Review, an American online media company, the average IQ for Hong Kong people is the highest in the world. Or is it because Hong Kong is too small a territory and doesn't have the population scale? This view doesn't make sense, either, since the first country to embrace computational thinking in its secondary and primary school curriculum is Estonia, an Eastern European country with a population of merely 1.3 million.
As I see it, it is still a matter of mindset. Many people in Hong Kong are adverse to taking risks and shy of innovation, happy to be Number Two rather than taking the risks to become the leader. Innovation and creativity will simply be a buzzword without a change in the mindset, I'm afraid.
Even if computational thinking is trendy nowadays, we should not forget that science and technology, including computers, coding and the internet, are only tools for achieving our goals. While computational thinking may help us solve problems by using computing logic, it is essential that young people learn some history and literature and cultivate their critical-thinking ability, too. By doing so, they can promote the advancement of society.
We should give dual emphasis to the mind and matter, putting mind before matter and making it serve us rather than being enslaved by it. Ethics is the basis for democracy and science. While we are trying to learn scientific and technological tools and cultivating and enhancing our logical thinking, problem-solving and innovative capabilities, we should not forget that the cultivation of the mind is important for establishing a correct view of life.
12 December, 2016