Re-examining Priority Values: Positioning Values Education in Hong Kong for the 21st Century

Jacky Fung

Executive Summary 

Recent discussion on the Hong Kong Education Reform since 2001 has brought attention to how ‘the world has changed’, calling for relevant changes in different aspects of education. Amongst the five domains of moral, intellectual, physical, social, and aesthetic (德智體群美) development, values education has been regarded as the most important one. In the past two decades, significant changes happened in the world, and this report identifies them as the 21st Century Contexts -- Globalised Talent and Identity Context, Uncertain Context, Diversified Context, Complex Family Structure Context, Risks Individualised Context, Hybrid Reality Context. Hong Kong, as a globalised and mature economy, is no exception.

WHY: The Three Main Drivers of Values Education

The aims of traditional Chinese education were laid out in  the Confucian eight clauses of “Gezhi chengzhengXiuqizhiping[1],” (格致誠正、修齊治平)with the goal of “Xueerzhiyushengren[2].”(學而至於聖人)Morality is thus seen as the most important element of Chinese tradition. Meanwhile, among the major school sponsoring bodies in Hong Kong, religious institutions also place top priority to their education of religious values. However, the main forces driving the reform of global education are economic transformation and knowledge revolution, leading to educational reforms like the one happening in Hong Kong since 2000, with ‘human resources’ as the theoretical base. While enlightening students to develop good moral virtues was the main focus in the reform documents of the HKSAR Government, the actual implementation, either in the learning-hours allocation assigned by the government or in the extra resource input from parents, still emphasized on  academic-related skills, thus the educational aim of nurturing ‘good people and good deeds’ has not received adequate sufficient government policy attention and fund allocation. However, the local educational sector as well as other social sectors need to address the issue of moral education in the rapidly-changing world of the 21st Century.

Finland and Singapore are recognized by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) for their high quality in education. Their official education curricula contain the strategies of infiltrating the curriculum and key subjects, as seen in Singapore's ‘Character and Citizenship Education’ and Finland’s ‘Religious / Ethics Education’ and ‘Social Studies’.

With reference to the official documents of the curriculum reforms in Singapore and Finland, it is not difficult to find that there are three main drivers behind the official emphasis on ethics and values education:

  1. To Enhance Nationals’ Competitiveness
  2. To Cultivate Citizenship and to Strengthen Social Coherence
  3. To Promote Good People and Good Deeds


HOW: Apply the Seven Priority Values into the 21st Century Contexts

The Values Education in Hong Kong are both the combined effort of top-down planning as well as bottom-up approach from the sponsoring bodies and schools, imparting both school-based values (of the sponsoring bodies) and the seven priority values (perseverance, respect for others, responsibility, national identity, commitment, integrity, care for others), as outlined by the Education Bureau (EDB). This report shall reexamine the enactment of the seven priority values with regards to the “21st Century Contexts” and the three main drivers of values education. We hope that this research report may serve as a reference for local schools in their delivery of the seven priority values, and as a thought experiment for schools to envision, plan and execute values education.

The seven priority values and the associate 21st century contexts characteristics are summarized in the table below. We have highlighted the different focuses in the ways forward for the seven values in relation to the 21st century contexts megatrend.

[1] The eight clauses can be understood into: studying the physical nature (格物), extending knowledge (致知), making will sincere (誠意), rectifying mind (正心), and cultivating character (修身), but separates or develops gradually regulating family (齊家), making state in order (治國), and bringing peace to the world (平天下)” (紀晏如, 2016)

[2] It can be understood as  “The learning of a superior person must not stop until he becomes a sage.”  (Huang, 2014: 263)


Jacky Fung
Leong Ka Hou
Senior Research Assistant