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SG's speech on "3+3+4" Symposium on "Bridging Co-curricular Activities in Secondary and Tertiary Education"

"3+3+4" Symposium on
"Bridging Co-curricular Activities in Secondary and Tertiary Education"

hosted by HKIEd on 6 November 2010 (Saturday)

Speech by Mr Michael V Stone, JP
Secretary-General, University Grants Committee

Professor (Anthony) Cheung, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,

        Good morning. I am very pleased to join colleagues here today at this meaningful occasion, and to discuss our perspectives on "co-curricular" activities.

2.  First of all, on behalf of the University Grants Committee (UGC), I would like to thank the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) for putting together this event. HKIEd organised our first symposium way back in December 2008 – and I am pleased that, with that experience, the Institute has again brought together the school and the university sectors to discuss this important element of the "3+3+4" academic reform.

3.  The whole philosophy of "3+3+4" stresses the need for student-centric, whole-person education – which not only focuses on academic attainment, but also on out-of-classroom personal development. From entering the senior secondary years as adolescents to graduating from universities as young adults, this is the crucial stage in life in which our teenagers start to understand and master the dynamics amongst people, in our society, and of the world. It is the stage that youngsters develop their sets of values, and the attitude and aspirations to work and life. "Co-curricular" activities are integral and important as they seek to expose students to a spectrum of non-academic, real-life experiences that shape their personal growth.

4.  "Co-curricular" activities are not a novel concept, nor unique to university education. I am sure all of us do recall vividly, when we were young, how we used to undergo "team-work training" on the soccer field – or the rugby field for those coming from Europe, "film appreciation" in one cinema in town, and "internships" in relatives' grocery stores, when we studied hard in school. These were our extra-curricular activities which taught us how to interact with people and deal with real-life situations.

5.  But with the pressure, certainly in Hong Kong, to focus on academic attainment, it is important to stress to our students that these non-academic skills are equally important – and so we cannot just leave them to whim or serendipity. The US writer Thomas Merton once said, "The least of the work of learning is done in the classroom". Indeed the lessons we learn outside the classroom are equally if not more important than the ones we learn inside. They are now no longer regarded as something "extra", but a "core" part, of the holistic curriculum. That's why they are now called the "co-curricular" activities.

6.  Understandably, the focus on "co-curricular" activities in the secondary and tertiary education will be different, given the different age range and psychological development of the students; but at the same time they must be connected and coherent, as the former prepares students for the latter. "Co-curricular" activities (or Other Learning Experiences) in secondary schools develop students to be all-round persons, generally built upon the five Chinese virtues: ethics (德); intellect (智); physique (體); social skills (群); and aesthetics (美). Those in universities will go on to prepare these young persons for their career and community life by enhancing their confidence, leadership, work attitude, global perspective, social concern and responsibility, etc. through activities such as internships, student exchange, community service, academic competition, and so on.

7.  I was going to muse that organisation of co-curricular activities in schools and universities should be rather different, since in schools the boundaries of what we expect of and allow students to do is rather closely controlled. But in universities, the whole idea is to let students find themselves. I think I have heard from Anthony that it seems this is no longer so much the case. Students need to find themselves – sometimes perhaps in a rather structured way. The "3+3+4" curriculum and indeed the global trend, means "co-curricular activities" are being formalised and organised in a more structured manner whereby their objectives and expected outcomes will be expressly set out, and students' achievements evaluated, assessed and recorded where appropriate. This is likely to entail more work on the part of teachers in organising these activities, but it is worthwhile as it gives an extra dimension to students' learning processes and whole-person development.

8.  The UGC has seen the plans of our eight funded institutions on strengthening co-curricular activities, among other "3+3+4" initiatives, and there is a good range of exciting and meaningful activities being contemplated and indeed starting to be introduced. I am sure you will be able to hear more about them in the discussion sessions that follow.

9.  As the American academic David Johnson, and his colleagues, once succinctly put it, "Learning is a social process that occurs through interpersonal interaction within a cooperative context." I think all of you here are architects of this process – working together to provide an enabling environment for our students to equip themselves with the much-needed skills for the many work and life challenges lying ahead. I really appreciate the enormous amount of work that you have put in for the students, and encourage you to keep up this momentum for the benefit of our younger generations.

10.  I am sure we all look forward to the presentations and thought-provoking speeches in the coming sessions. So, without further ado, I should stop and wish this symposium a great success. Thank you very much.