Practical school reacts to changing times, bids to lose stigma

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2001, 12:00am

The Hong Kong Sea School has revealed plans to overhaul its image as a niche for 'unmotivated' students as it becomes the first of Hong Kong's four practical schools to phase in mainstream classes.

The aided school in Stanley is now working hard to remove its 'practical' label and in September will phase in mainstream classes in Forms One and Four. It will, however, build on its seafaring history and boarding school traditions that set it apart from other mainstream schools.

The school was founded in 1946 to provide basic education and seamanship training for orphans and homeless children.

In the face of a decline in the maritime industry in the 1980s, it was turned into Hong Kong's first practical school in 1993, but has still suffered a shortage of pupils in the years since, with the school only two-thirds full in some years. As a practical school, it has been offering a three-year secondary curriculum with a heavy emphasis on providing discipline for pupils whom the Education Department terms 'unmotivated'.

The move is in response to the Government's decision to adopt a recommendation made by the Board of Education last year to integrate practical schools into the mainstream. The board argued that students in practical schools should not be classified as unmotivated as there was no theoretical basis to determining lack of motivation. The move would reduce the stigma on the students who attend such schools - who are often viewed as unable to fit into mainstream education - and enable them to continue to Form Four in the same schools.

The school will no longer rely on the Education Department for referrals. Students will also be admitted through the central allocation system, and the discretionary places on offer. Many of its traditions as a sea school will be kept, however, and adapted to changing socio-economic conditions. For example, the school's seamanship course is now being revised to place a stronger emphasis on maritime studies. It will also continue to run a course on stewardship, in view of increasing job opportunities in the hospitality industry.

Drills and ceremonial parades will continue to occupy an important place in the curriculum.

The principal, Tsui Yiu-kwong, said that the Hong Kong Sea School would play a more significant role in local education as it could attract those with an interest in maritime activities.

'Students who aspire to be naval architects, marine engineers and sea captains will be able to obtain first-hand experience at an earlier age in our school,' he said, adding that 600,000 people in Hong Kong were involved in the shipping industry at present. He also hopes to offer A-level courses.

In recent years, the number of students in the school has decreased from 300 to 100. Parents have been reluctant to send their children to a school which only runs up to Form Three. About 80 per cent of students go on to mainstream schools afterwards.

The school is currently liaising with the Education Department on how much the School Improvement Programme can offer towards improving its teaching and boarding facilities in Stanley. PCCW has already agreed to sponsor an IT network on campus so that students can access the Internet in their dormitories.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong's other three practical schools will offer a mainstream curriculum in Forms One and Four from September 2002. The principal of PLK Tong Nai Kang Practical School in Lai Chi Kok, Ting Wing-hing, said that he did not anticipate low enrolment because demand for places had been strong.

He added that the school's attraction was the special courses it offered, such as fashion and clothing, and catering services. These could be retained, to meet the interests of youngsters, he said.