Professor Cheng was Dean of Education, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor of the University. He was a school teacher and a school principal, before he pursued a PhD study at the London Institute of Education. He taught at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as Visiting Professor 1996-2007. He is Honorary Professor in several major universities in China. He has been involved in institutional evaluations in many systems, including 8 major universities in China. He lectures at the National Academy of Education Administration, China, and SKOLKOVO, Russia, both facing university leaders. He created the Summer Institute on higher education at HKU, where participants are higher education leaders in the region. His current attention is on the fundamental changes in society and their challenges to education. He has been consultant with the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, and UNDP. He also participated in the discussion of education reforms in various countries, the most recent being Mongolia and Cambodia. Locally he was member of the Education Commission and was instrumental in the comprehensive reform which started 1999.
Education as a national system started around the world only in mid-19th Century. It started at the high time of industrialization, for manpower training. Since, it has been an economic discourse, concentrating on knowledge and skills, for jobs. Society has changed. In particular, the workplace is undergoing overhauling changes, very much because of the change in the economy and the modes of productions. Jobs now mean very different things. Among others, even front-line workers have to work in teams, to directly face clients, to make decisions, to face risks, dilemmas and temptation. It’s simply not sufficient to feed young people with specific knowledge and skills, and to end formal education with a paper credential. It is even seen as insufficient to aim at competencies, which is more related to performance, and does not include values. There is therefore increasing attention around the world to “social and emotional learning”, or in other names. However, such learning takes a different mode, which would require experiences beyond classrooms, beyond school, beyond cities, and often beyond one’s own national borders. Such learning is often holistic and implicit, and is achieved beyond formal teaching. There are examples from many countries.