Self-centred myopia defies young needs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2006, 12:00am

If you love someone, set them free ... pop star Sting's words aren't just relevant to lovers. They're a message that certain school principals also need to heed, even if the L word might be a bit strong for defining their relationship with students. But certainly, one expects them to have a deep commitment towards ensuring the best interests of the young people whose futures they hold in their hands.

However, this week I found out that principals of some of the best-known elite schools in Hong Kong behave more like jealous lovers when students are ready to fly free. They refuse to write references or endorse applications for Form Five students seeking to spend their final two years of secondary schooling at Li Po Chun United World College in Ma On Shan.

And a Li Po Chun graduate told me that while her former principal did reluctantly complete the paperwork, the woman gave her the cold shoulder for the rest of her time at the school and for several years afterwards.

Such principals are either ignorant of what the United World College movement is all about, or they are petty and narrow-minded, putting the interests of their own school and its reputation ahead of those of their students.

Principals will understandably feel a moment of regret when a handful of their best students depart to alternative pastures. They want their input in the sixth form years, as well as their trophies and A grades for their war chests in the never-ending battle to be top school. But that is a shortsighted view that one would expect a professional principal to rise above.

Li Po Chun opened 14 years ago as part of the United World College movement and with the full support of the government. The residential college offers an unparalleled opportunity for Hong Kong students to learn with and live alongside bright, highly-motivated students recruited on scholarship from around the world.

The learning environment is completely different from the traditional Hong Kong secondary school in giving young adults far greater freedom to manage their lives and studies. It would be a very blinkered principal who could not see how their students might benefit.

The college offers only about 60 scholarships a year to Hong Kong students, to study at Li Po Chun or one of nine other colleges in the movement. With numbers limited, no school is going to lose many students.

Principals should encourage those who would most benefit from the global encounter to apply and celebrate having successfully prepared them for the opportunity.

And as for those few places left vacant, they should relish the chance to recruit new students, sharing the great things their top schools offer with as many young people as possible.