With more recent news of student suicides shaking up the city, Hong Kong’s education system and its often unforgiving curriculum is back in the spotlight. Chan Hung, founder of non-profit Principal Chan Free Tutorial World, tells The Loop HK about his vision of an ideal learning environment, especially for underprivileged children.
Prior to devoting his life to underprivileged children, Hung was the founder and principal of a secondary school under the Direct Subsidy Scheme for five years — before he could no longer ignore the glaring gap in Hong Kong’s education system and decided to do something about it.
Founded in 2011, the Principal Chan Free Tutorial World links instructors – qualified educators and passionate volunteers alike – with underprivileged children from grade one to form six, to tutor them on a whole range of subjects. Sessions are usually one-hour-long and take place in public areas like fast food restaurants or in the library. PCFTW currently has branches in To Kwa Wan, Jordan and Prince Edward. It offers playgroup and pre-school courses, small-group lessons, as well as hobby classes ranging from Tai Kwon Do to Latin percussion. To date, principal Chan’s non-profit has paired 8,000-plus students with volunteer teachers.
Sacrificing his million-dollar annual income for life in the non-profit sector meant that principal Chan’s three children – two daughters and a son – were mainly supported by his civil servant wife. Sadly, she passed away in 2016 after years of battling against breast cancer. Today, principal Chan relies on the generosity of donors to keep his organization going.
The current cookie-cutter methods being used in the Hong Kong classroom are only suitable for the 20 percent of students who already excel in dictation and memorization, but when teachers are faced with 30-plus students with loads of meetings and campaigns to care for after work, there’s nothing they can do to escape the system.
This system doesn’t fulfill the individual needs of every student — it needs to be more multifaceted. If it fails to change, then everything is just talk: all the banter between government parties, even the latest announcement of the annual $5 billion injection into education, would all be meaningless talk.
2. Parents are the keys to change
We can’t change the existing school system, but we can start with the students and parents. However, a number of parents from underprivileged families just don’t have the resources to rebel against the status quo. Some of them feel hopeless, helpless, and don’t know how and why things are the way they are.
3. Schools are responsible for shaping a student’s beliefs
Years ago, I was privileged enough to mentor a student who was in a gang. Even for a guy like him there’s hope, as long as the system changes. Do you think being the head of a gang is easy? It requires a lot of people skills that you and I may not have. But clearly his school had failed to see his value and to teach him and nurture his talents properly, thereby pushing him to find mentorship in organizations like gangs. And yes, this would be the school’s fault.
4. Schools should help students dream
Aside from filling students’ heads with knowledge, teachers should also open their eyes to the world. Once a child steps through the school gates, it is the school’s responsibility to nurture and to give them goals, confidence and the tools to strive for the best development possible, and this includes interests and things outside of text books.
5. Geography is still an issue
When we’re talking about underprivileged students, some don’t realize how “underprivileged” they can be, such as not being able to afford the transportation to and from our centers and their homes. We have three centers now, but we’re hoping to expand our footprint by borrowing space from local schools. Tung Chung is in the talks, but resources are always an issue.
We know that our way won’t work under the pressure of the mainstream system without an institution of our own, but building a school takes money — a few hundred million to be exact. I had planned to have [my own] school by 2020, but we’ll see. Right now, I’m thinking it’s going to be something that is co-owned by parents, teachers and the people who share my vision.
If we get the money, of course that’s fantastic, but right now we’re already spreading our gospel with the Free Tutorial Centre. We’re getting there.