Friday, October 12, 2007

A visit to Hong Kong University: a lot happening!

Hong Kong: N: 22º 12.646' E: 114º 01.775'
GIS in schools in Hong Kong
As mentioned I have previously had contact with Dr P C Lai from the Geography Department of Hong Kong University. Dr Lai heads up an innovative and passionate group of post graduate geographers who are using GIS in a wide range of applications. Dr Lai has done an enormous amount of work in trying to encourage schools in Hong Kong to take on GIS as part of their teaching programme. If we go back to the post about the South Australian experience, Dr Lai has been involved in Stage 1: Basic awareness of the motivated in particular. Over the past few years there have been 5 pilot schools which have done some great work on GIS with their students in Hong Kong. In fact many of those motivated in the pilot schools are Dr Lai's students from Hong Kong University who are now teaching in Hong Kong schools. Over the past few years the Education Management Board of Hong Kong (Education Bureau) has taken the lead in writing the use of GIS into the new geography curriculum. To this end the new geography curriculum to be implemented in 2009 has a requirement of schools to use GIS in the teaching of geography.
Go to to have a look at this new geography curriculum for 2009 with overt references to GIS.
As was the case in South Australia in 2003 when GIS became a compulsory part of Year 11 geography, this curriculum initiative (Stage 2 of implementation) has caused a frenzy of teacher training and in some case anxiety about the ability of teachers to embrace the technology considering the plethora of demands on their time. That is where the similarity with the process in South Australia ends. In South Australia Stage 3 was teaching the teachers by teachers but with little system support in real terms. In Hong Kong there is system support with funds allocated for resource development, tenders for teacher training by private companies and the University and funds to support the technology requirements. This last resourcing factor involved the Education Bureau negotiating an ESRI license for all Hong Kong schools. At this point it is worth noting that those involved in the Hong Kong implementation of GIS are just like us in South Australia; concerned about the learning curve and extra difficulties associated with the use of ArcGIS 9 compared to Arcview 3x. In Australia it has been an ongoing debate about the merit of pushing ArcGIS onto schools considering the increased complexity of the programme. As a result ESRI Australia has continued to supply ArcView 3x to schools. In Hong Kong ESRI HK has not supplied ArcView to schools for many years and ArcGIS has been the only option. Whether this issue is a significant impediment to implementation is still debated but it seems in Hong Kong that it is a non-issue considering the stance of ESRI HK. A Chinese proverb comes to my mind in relation to this situation; "You don't need to kill a chicken using a knife to kill a cow". Think about it!
Dr Lai's team is presently writing some great materials for schools to help teachers and students to learn GIS and already I am pleased to say they have incorporated some of my GIS teaching materials/ideas into the resource package. I hope we can continue to cooperate with Hong Kong teachers as they battle the learning curve as we have continued to do so in Australia. This material will go up on the Hong Kong Education site (early in 2008, so it would be worth Australian teachers keeping an eye out for them (if accessible)

Presently the education Bureau is running a comprehensive training programme for teachers (3 day workshops and after hours) and it is envisaged that by implementation day in 2009 the 2000 Hong Kong geography teachers will be trained in GIS. An ambitious task and I wish them well.

The work of the Hong Kong University Geography Department

During my visit I was also fortunate to view the work of Dr Lai's team and a brief summary of the projects gives an insight into the enormous variety of GIS applications.
The projects are:
* Poets footprints: Tracing the journeys of the poets from the Tang and Sung Dynasty and describing in the maps the geography indicated in the verse.
* Mapping air pollution: mapping respiration diseases such as asthma and trying to correlate the disease levels with air pollution (particulate matter levels)
* Study of the environmental factors on elderly falls: mapping where elderly people fall down and identifying hot spots (wet markets, uneven surfaces and female public toilets)
* Spatial epidemiology: Using GIS to study to study disease distribution and then trying to correlate with socio-economic factors as well as environmental factors such as transport networks and pollution.
* Obesity and the relationship to distance from school and adjacency to fast food outlets etc.

Dr Lai also pointed me in the direction of these two sites which are certainly worth a look to see some fantastic example of GIS applications.

In the first site, an animation of the 2003 SARS outbreak:
User name: kernel Password:flash

Another useful site from the UK is:

Finally I would like to thank Dr Lai and her colleagues for their time on the day and the lovely lunch in the University refectory. A great group of really talented and motivated geographers.

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