Learning the hard way about school business

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 12:00am

Operating a new school has tested the management skills of the Hong Kong Management Association, which lost six of its 12 expatriate teachers within a month of opening the HKMA David Li Kwok Po College in the West Kowloon Reclamation.

David T H Wong, the school's principal and senior manager of the association's training activities, said that the teachers left because of the difficult working conditions. 'They could not cope with the Hong Kong curriculum,' he said. Large class sizes, the poor English abilities of some of the pupils and the lack of facilities such as air-conditioning and an operational library in the school's first month had also driven them away. The school had recruited 12 expatriates, from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.

As a Direct Subsidy School which charges $900 to $2,700 a month in fees, the school is able to select 90 per cent of its own pupils, and has chosen to teach in English and Putonghua. But in its first year it also accepted three Secondary One classes allocated by the Education Department because of the balloon in student numbers caused by the Year of the Dragon, which prompted a population surge 12 years ago.

'These are low achievers, from the bottom 10 per cent in Hong Kong. This has killed us, as many of these children don't even know the alphabet. How can we teach them in English? Some teachers were very frustrated and couldn't cope,' he said.

The school hopes that 50 per cent of its teachers will eventually be expatriate, and will apply to introduce the International Baccalaureate programme after it has been open for two years.

Mr Wong said that the aim of the school was to provide students, one class of whom are pictured above, with a greater international outlook than other local schools. 'We want to train up Hong Kong's future leaders, students who are really proficient in English, self-confident and brave enough to speak out,' he said. Whole-person development was encouraged through music, sport and a 'personal development programme' of community service and group activities.

To expose the students to other cultures, study tours are organised each school holiday. During the Christmas break, students went to Guangzhou and Australia. In March, groups will go to Canada, Malaysia and the mainland. Those who cannot afford the trips are awarded bursaries to travel at least once while at the school. The school operates a longer school day than most, from 8am to 4.30pm. 'Teachers leave at 5.30pm,' said Mr Wong.

He would like class sizes to be reduced from the current 40 to a maximum of 30 or 32 within a few years, but said that the funding arrangement for DSS schools made this difficult. The school had already recruited about one-third more teachers than normal in local schools, he said, which enabled some classes to be split for smaller group work.