Our living standard drops

Top News | Ellen He and Amy Nip 17 Aug 2017

Singapore has galloped past Hong Kong in a "livability" listing for the first time mainly due to its improvements in education.

The annual Global Liveability Ranking compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit and released yesterday shows Hong Kong down two places to 45th out of 140 cities while Singapore leapt 11 places to reach 35.

According to the UK-based Economist unit, education improvements gave Singapore the big lift while "growing instability" dragged Hong Kong down.

The annual ranking assesses locations on best and worst living conditions.

The rating gives each city a score out of 100 for over 30 qualitative factors across five categories - stability, health care, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

Hong Kong earned an overall score of 88.8 while Singapore got 90.4.

"Singapore's jump up the rankings can be attributed to consistent and impressive improvements in educational attainment, which has delivered a perfect score for education and pushed its overall score above 90 percent for the first time since the survey began [in 2002]," said survey editor Jon Copestake.

He was referring to improving educational attainment indicators for Singapore, which tops the global Program for International Student Assessment survey of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Hong Kong also comes out worse than Singapore in petty crime, civil unrest, public health care, social and religious restrictions and quality housing, said research analyst Michael Frank.

But Hong Kong has a lower threat of terrorism, a better climate, less restrictive censorship and more vibrant sporting culture. Frank said Hong Kong's "growing instability is the primary culprit" for its ranking falloff.

"Singapore, on the other hand, is up because of long-term investments in education bearing fruit," he said.

"There's no doubt that long-term questions persist surrounding Hong Kong's relationship with China. The same tensions that brought about the Occupy Movement are unresolved today.

"That's a big part of the reason why Hong Kong scores lower for the risk of civil unrest, and we anticipate there will be more demonstrations in the years to come."

All top-10 ranking cities remain the same as last year, with Melbourne, Vienna and Vancouver heading the pack. Melbourne, in fact, tops the list for a seventh successive year.

Damascus in Syria is the lowest- ranked city.

The only two Asian cities now ranked ahead of Singapore are in Japan - Tokyo (13th) and Osaka (14th).

Beyond the Economist ranking but also comparing Singapore to Hong Kong, Esther Ho Sui-chu, director of the Hong Kong Centre for International Student Assessment said the republic is better in using technology in teaching.

That was an advantage to the higher ranking in the PISA assessment as it shifted to computer-based learning in 2015.

Singapore is also good at reviewing problems in education such as how to relieve teacher workloads, she said.

There are also constant reforms in Singapore's teaching strategies, such as how to use IT for specific subjects, while Hong Kong is a latecomer in this area.

Singapore also excels at vocational education - but at a cost. It starts streaming students into vocational, normal and fast track as early as primary four.

That is seen to have a labeling effect and to affect students' self esteem.

"One reason why Singapore has surpassed Hong Kong in education is the fact that while the island nation is bilingual and recognizes four languages, English is the first language used in schools," said a Singaporean expert who did not want to be identified. "This gives those entering universities a head start in many courses where English is essential."

Ho said that since the launch in Hong Kong of the senior secondary school curriculum in 2009 there have been fewer students studying physics, chemistry and biology. She believed that contributed to the drop in the science ranking.

"We can think about motivating students to choose science by launching programs for gifted students," she added.

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