Tutoring centre sees big profits in reforms
He's an economics teacher by day - but by night, Fred Chan Yiu-fai is an economic success story. And he believes his private tuition business can one day follow in the footsteps of Modern Education, which floated on the stock market last year.
'If the books are kept better, it is not impossible,' Chan says. His company, Champagne Education, is already matching the financial figures posted by some start-ups that have gone public, he says.
Banking on changes brought about by the education reforms and a shake-up of the exam structure, he started the company several years ago and says it is already earning him 'millions'.
At the company's headquarters near bustling Nathan Road, students sit at a long line of computers, on which they can watch lectures they have subscribed to at a convenient time.
'Nowadays, student habits have changed,' Chan says. 'You cannot follow the old way of teaching. They should be able to learn at any time.'
And he believes his role as chief executive of a business can help him in his day job, teaching economics at Ma On Shan's YCH Tung Chi Ying Memorial School.
For Costa Chan, the new Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education, which replaced A-levels as the final exam in the secondary school system and the pathway to university, provided an unexpected opportunity.
Working for Modern Education, which sought HK$150 million when it floated in June last year, she has helped thousands of students prepare for the new liberal studies paper, which became compulsory this year amid much concern over its impact. She first started teaching the subject almost by accident in her old job at a secondary school.
'I did not intend this. I first started teaching liberal studies to fill in for colleagues at my previous schools,' said Chan, who took up the subject when a colleague left and another died. She was one of the first specialist liberal studies teachers back when the subject was optional at A-level, but after pursuing further studies, she realised that the fact the subject was to be compulsory offered an opportunity.
Education officials say the reforms, under which all students receive three years of senior secondary education and university courses are extended to four years, are intended to encourage young people to think for themselves and end the 'spoon-feeding' of facts - a culture that tutorial schools are often associated with.
But the private tuition industry remains vibrant - and the trend of teachers at mainstream schools becoming tutors, either to earn cash on the side or as a career change, is on the rise. But many in the education sector do not think this is a trend that should be embraced.
'The values of the two systems are different. If it becomes a trend, it will damage the mainstream schooling system,' Professional Teachers Union president Fung Wai-wah said.
But Costa Chan believes private tuition is already embedded in the education sector, and the culture will only spread further.
'Even if you don't do it, others [teachers] will do it. I just want to do it better,' she said.
The Education Bureau said management of a school, as well as the teacher's supervisors, must approve any job outside public schools. The extra duties must contribute to the 'public good', will not interfere with the teacher's normal duties and not represent a conflict of interest.
Records of such approval should be kept by the school and reviewed regularly, a spokeswoman for the bureau said.