The businessman Po Chung might seem an unlikely advocate for the virtues of a U.S.-style liberal education. As the cofounder of the Asia Pacific branch of the shipping giant DHL, Chung is an entrepreneur who grew up poor and whose success is emblematic of the former colony’s hard-driving capitalist culture.
But he’s also one of the leading advocates for adding a big dose of humanities and social sciences to the curriculum of Hong Kong’s universities.
Chung and other backers of an unprecedented three-year-old curriculum-reform effort are determined to steer the city’s eight universities away from the rote learning, test obsession, and narrow career focus that still characterize much of the Asian education system. They think it’s past time for colleges to introduce a broader range of subjects, to promote greater intellectual curiosity, and to foster creative thinking. And they’re convinced that these changes will, in turn, build a workforce of rigorous, creative thinkers—just what they think is needed to meet the fast-changing needs of a transforming global economy.
To one degree or another, this kind of liberal-arts approach has long been a distinctive feature of American colleges and universities. In fact, U.S. undergraduate education is the explicit model for Hong Kong’s liberal-education campaign. A cadre of U.S. Fulbright scholars was even imported to implement the plan.
Hong Kong and some other Asian countries are embracing everything from art history to sociology as necessary components of undergraduate coursework. However, the United States seems to be moving in the opposite direction.
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