Chan Shuk-ying, principal of Hong Kong and Kowloon Chiu Chow Public Association Secondary School starting this school year, said she had never expected to become a headmistress so soon.
Last year she was still a vice-principal at a secondary school in Tsuen Wan. However, when she came across a vacancy for principal at a Chiu Chow institution, she knew she couldn’t just let it pass.
Her alma mater is a Chiu Chow-backed school. For her, it was a golden opportunity to express her profound gratitude for what she received in her teens during the time when she needed assistance most.
“Initially I was studying on Hong Kong Island. However, we later moved home to Ma On Shan. As my family was so poor at that time, in order to save up the money, I transferred to Chiu Chow Association Secondary School in the neighborhood.”
Chan said she would not never have succeeded without the help of the teachers there.
“I had thought of quitting, as my family was having huge trouble making ends meet. The teachers there lent me money so that I could continue my education. Approaching graduation, I got four distinctions in the Hong Kong A-Level public exams. I surely could be admitted to any university. However, borrowing the government grant and loan also required a guarantor, but members of my family were deemed incapable of serving that role as they were construction workers with no fixed job or income. Nevertheless, my teacher was willing to do it for me,” Chan explained.
It turned out to be a beautiful “misunderstanding”, Chan said, as she found out this school in Mong Kok she was serving was not sharing the same sponsoring body as her alma mater’s.
Nevertheless, since both were funded by associations of Chiu Chow background, many of the council members of the two schools were the same.
Having experienced and overcome financial hardships, Chan understands what children from grassroots families need, and that also helps her cater for her students coming from families from a low socio-economic status.
For instance, the school has been equipped with refrigerators and a huge steamer for students storing and reheating their prepared meals at the canteen.
“Many students here are not well-off, and living in subdivided flats where they lack space even for doing homework at home. Starting this school year, the school is now open for students until 9 p.m., so they can stay late on campus to do their homework and revisions. The steamer also allows them to reheat their dinner.”
When students feel they are loved, Chan said, their affiliation to the school will grow. She is also certain that they are very conscious of their behavior as they know they will be representing the school in the outside world.
The school also pays strong emphasis on cultivating the Chiuchowese spirit of modesty and diligence in students.
Secondary one students, for instance, have recently completed the marching drill practice with a passing out parade.
Not only do they learn to be disciplined, the program also helps them in their studies, as concentration is a quality that students need most.
On top of the marching drills, the school’s rope skipping and lion dance teams are performing very well and have won quite a number of awards in inter-school competitions.
Chan gives school alumni credit for these achievements.
“Many coaches or instructors of the extra-curricular activities are graduates who are willing to teach their younger brothers and sisters their skills on a voluntary basis. They told me they have been grateful for mastering the skills at school for free and it’s time they shared their skills.”
As long as they keep the faith, people can pursue the goals they have set for themselves, said Chan, who believes education has changed her life and that of her students as well.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 21.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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