15 September 2019
Lee Hon-piu, principal of Hong Kong Sea School, says disciplinary training helps strengthen students' willpower and perseverance. Photo: HKEJ
Lee Hon-piu, principal of Hong Kong Sea School, says disciplinary training helps strengthen students' willpower and perseverance. Photo: HKEJ

How a seamen’s school preps students for the real world

Hong Kong Sea School (HKSS) has been a cradle of seafarers in the city since the end of World War II.

Founded in 1946 by lawyer Brook Antony Bernacchi and other social elites, the Stanley school provided free accommodation, basic education and seamanship for homeless street boys.

Over the next five decades, the institution evolved into a government subsidized school, providing students standard secondary education as well as practical vocational courses.

Regardless of the changes in curriculum, most of the school’s traditions are still practiced as of today. Boarding, for instance, is the essence of the school life.

“We do not accept non-residing boys for two reasons,” says Lee Hon-piu, principal of Hong Kong Sea School.

“Firstly, as most of our students come from the north of the New Territories, going back and forth between home and school is not quite feasible on a daily basis. Second, our students are required to take part in activities and training at nighttime,” he says.

Disciplinary training is at the heart of the school, a tradition originated from seamanship. Students have to receive foot drill training in smart uniforms every morning, and they have to salute to teachers on campus. There are also protocols on various things, ranging from hairstyle to eyewear.

Strict rules are not only enforced on students, but also on teachers and supporting staff, who are expected to serve as role models for their wards.

“We adhere to rules and tough boarding school life in order to nurture students’ abilities on self-care. Unlike some other boarding schools, we don’t provide individual rooms and suites. Instead, we have large rooms that can accommodate up to 45 people,” explained Lee.

Situated to the right of Stanley main beach, HKSS has a unique advantage in training seamen. That’s whyit is the only secondary school providing Maritime Studies, which is made compulsory in the junior secondary, but as an elective for the senior secondary.

“The basic course covers lifeguard and first aid training, while the advanced course students get to know more about operating pleasure vessels, working on the deck and studying marine propulsion.”

Recreational activities for the students also involve water, with a focus on sports such as sailing, windsurfing and canoeing.

When asked what career options are available for HKSS graduates, Lee said the trained personnel can join the government’s Marine Department or disciplinary forces. Those familiar with yacht operation and maintenance will find job opportunities in ship management or agency companies.

HKSS is providing mentorship programs in cooperation with Hong Kong Marine Police and Correctional Services Department.

“Since our students are so familiar with life at sea, they are perfect for working as marine police officers. While other new recruits might be spending time to get themselves used to the life on the deck of marine police craft, our graduates will be ready to serve from day one,” Lee says proudly.

Since 2013, HKSS has participated in Project WeCan, a Wharf Holdings initiative that offers students internship opportunities at the Pacific Club.

“Having broadened their horizons, our students demand more from themselves. In the past they might have been satisfied with being a police constable or a hotel staffer, but now they aspire to becoming a police inspector or a hotelier,” says Lee. “Thus, they pay much more attention to academic subjects.”

Whatever career paths the graduates wish to pursue, Principal Lee is confident about their prospects.

“Disciplinary training here is tough. Unless the boys feel sick or dizzy, they must endure the heat, standing at attention under the sun for sometimes up to two hours. Having survived hardships like this for years, they develop the courage and persistence to tackle all kinds of difficulties in their later years.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 14.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Even teachers and supporting staff are required to dress in smart uniforms at the Sea School. Photo: HKEJ

HKSS aims to develop its wards into masters of the sea. New students who don’t know how to swim are required to take special classes. Photo: HKEJ

A hostel dormitory at the Hong Kong Sea School. All students are required to spend boarding school life for six years. Photo: HKEJ

The marching band of Hong Kong Sea School is often invited to give performances at public events. Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal