How a school seeks to nurture character among its pupils

May 13, 2016 18:35
St. Paul's College Principal Dennis Yuen Dick-yan often reminds his students that it is not right to see a person's achievements solely through academic light. Photo: HKEJ

Founded in 1851, St. Paul's College is the oldest boys' school in Hong Kong.

Principal Dennis Yuen Dick-yan proudly extols the virtues of his students, outlining five character traits.

The boys are free-spirited who are always ready to try out new things, he says. Second, they are resourceful, working out their own solutions. The lads are ingenious, never ceasing to amaze you, Yuen exclaims.

Also, the young pupils are well-groomed and are ready to evolve as gentlemen. Finally, what is noteworthy is their diverse socio-economic backgrounds, the principal says.

Though the 165-year-old institution has switched to the Direct Subsidy School (DSS) scheme since 2002 -- DSS schools receive government funding in addition to collecting school fees -- Yuen stressed that the spirit behind St. Paul, which underlines that everyone must stand together as brothers for the benefit of all, hasn't changed.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and the same applies to the nurturing of a sense of brotherhood.

All of St. Paul students are encouraged to participate in a systematic outreach program.

"The boys will have Paul’s Action in Primary 5, Paul’s Breakthrough in Form one and Paul’s Challenge in Form 4. Each phase requires them to try out new things and make breakthroughs," says Yuen.

The Form 4 program, for instance, includes outdoor activities like canoeing and hiking. Students, regardless of whether they are extroverts or introverts, have to help each other out and complete the missions together. Meanwhile, senior boys will play the role of mentors for the juniors during the course.

All-boys schools have often been ridiculed as monasteries which fail to equip students with all the necessary social skills. Growing up without the company of the opposite sex, the boys can be uncomfortable in social settings that involve females, critics say.

But Yuen dismisses such notions.

"During this digital era, it is easier than ever to make friends with others. Besides, our boys organize and take part in inter-school activities, so they are not lacking opportunities," he says.

St. Paul's College claims it is always ahead of its time.

As early as in the 1960s, a Students' Association has been in place at the school, making it the very first school in Hong Kong that had such a facility.

In 1995, Yuen, who was head of the English Department at that time, organized a 3-week study tour to the United Kingdom.

Before 2000, study tours overseas were relatively rare in such institutions in the city.

"The kids have now become professionals in various fields," notes Yuen.

Reciting his own experience, the principal says that studying abroad helped him grow and become mature.

For someone who had never done any chores at home, Yuen said he learnt the value of hard work while studying abroad.

To mitigate the financial burden on his family, Yuen says he worked part-time at a restaurant during his overseas stay.  

The principal often reminds his students that it is not right to see a person's achievements solely through academic light.

"Academic results are important but not everything. We have to 'measure the size of the heart' by constantly asking if we are bringing about positive impact on others or contributing to society," Yuen says.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 9.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Yuen is seen sporting the same T-shirt his students are wearing during the school's swimming gala event. Photo: HKEJ
Yuen pays a visit to Form One students at the Paul’s Breakthrough camp in Sai Kung. He also constantly gives advice to student leaders. Photos: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal