It’s all about appearances.
Whenever Li Wing-leung, principal of the Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School (West Kowloon), is around, he makes it a point to look the part.
Today, he is wearing the Nehru tunic — a traditional Indian garment inspired by the nation’s founding father — perhaps in honor of his South Asian students, the largest ethnic group in his school.
As is customary, he is standing by the gate as the students file in, shaking hands with each of them.
The ritual is part of Li’s teaching style. He values experience more than test scores.
In fact, he is proud when his students turn in average results from the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) exam.
Nor is he particularly hung up on JUPAS, a unified system for applying to the nine member institutions for full-time undergraduate programs.
The school has always been at the vanguard of innovation, driven by practical ideas, not abstract theories.
For instance, it arranges professional Latin dance certificate exams for members of the Latin dance club.
“We have to make it more than an extra-curricular activity,” Li says.
“When students are certified, even if their DSE results are not good enough for a university degree, they can still make a good living as professional dance instructors.”
Or they could become student teachers in kindergartens.
As a result of the school’s open-minded approach to education, Kadoorie students are more readily able to express their thoughts and feelings, he says.
“One time, I was approached by a student who complained that his teacher’s methods had changed.”
The Sir Ellis Kadoorie Secondary School is the only government secondary school that caters to non-Chinese-speaking students.
The school was founded by the Kadoorie family in the 1890s and first operated as a primary school in Sai Ying Poon for Indian children.
Today, 100 years later, it is a co-educational institution serving Nepalese, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Chinese, Indians and others.
A former career guidance counselor, Li says it’s important to create an environment in which poor but deserving students can develop to their full potential.
He says South Asian students have a competitive edge in language and communication.
“Cantonese is something not easily picked up but you often see Filipinos speaking the language so fluently and competently.”
The school offers a range of language classes in the standard curriculum, including GCSE Chinese, Chinese, Putonghua, English, Hindi, Urdu and Spanish.
“The usefulness of the general school subjects could run out in a few years’ time. Meanwhile, the ability to speak an additional language, makes them stand out from the job market.”
As you might expect, Li takes this philosophy to heart.
On the wall in his office is a picture of a judge asking a group of animals — monkey, elephant, fish and others — how well they can climb a tree.
“The elephant and the fish lose out, but that is precisely the point,” Li says.
The simple quiz is a reminder that everyone has their own unique talent.
By contrast, Hong Kong measures students’ ability through HKDSE because it is the only yardstick, Li says.
“It’s too focused on language proficiency, math and analytical skills. If students were to perform badly in these aspects, they are considered ‘rubbish’.”
But a successful person could be the one next to us. He or she could be a dancer, a musician or a plumber.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 8.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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