AS one of the territory's new crop of schools, Buddhist Ma Kam Chan Memorial English Secondary School is succeeding in one difficult area - it has pumped new confidence into scores of students who were former academic failures in other schools. The school, which opened in Sheung Shui only three years ago, is not bent on turning students into academic high-flyers, but encouraging results are already to be seen as a result of helping students once handicapped by low self-esteem. In its first two years the school did not have its own Form Three classes. It therefore had to take in Form Three graduates from other schools for its Form Four classes, many of whom had failed to stay on in their former schools. 'The academic achievement of these students is below average, and they don't normally have a healthy concept of self,' said Principal Lau Hou-ting. But their perspective of themselves has improved, thanks to the school's Self-development and Self-enhancement Academic Achievement awards. 'Our focus is on participation and progress,' Mr Lau said. 'The first system requires each student to earn marks by taking part in at least one item in each of five categories: conduct, academic achievement, sports, extra-curricular/service-oriented activities and the arts.' Students are encouraged to aim for the top awards: gold (56 marks, $300 scholarship), silver (44 marks, $200 scholarship) and bronze (32 marks, $100 scholarship). The requirements are not difficult to fulfil. For example, a student earns two marks by completing two events on Sports Day - there was an impressive turnout on Sports Day last year. The school believes in encouragement - as many as one-third of the students received certificates and plaques for marks earned last year. 'The scheme aims to relieve academic tension. We hope to make students see they can succeed in other areas,' Mr Lau said. While the school 'firmly believes academic achievement isn't everything', it is trying to help under-achievers better their studies. The Self-enhancement Academic Achievement Award encourages students to fulfil academic goals they put down on paper in the course of the school year. 'Students have come to see that they can do something better than what they have done,' Mr Lau said. And to the school's delight, its first batch of Form Five graduates (under-achieved third-form graduates from other schools) had an HKCEE pass rate on a par with the territory's general pass rate last year. Half of these students were also able to move up to Form Six in other schools. 'This is an achievement for them,' Mr Lau said. 'But we are not in the business of moulding an academic elite. We treat students as individuals and focus on their individuality.' The fifth-formers have the freedom to express such individuality by chairing clubs, organising activities and handling problems, all of which boost their confidence to achieve outside the classroom. 'Helping students is one of the two most urgent matters on our agenda,' Mr Lau said. 'As a new school, we are also trying to establish a system in school administration, academic development and student affairs.' From 500 students in its inauguration year, the school's student population has expanded to the present 1,375, with classes created up to Form Five level. FACT FILE BACKGROUND The Buddhist school was founded in 1993. DESCRIPTION It's a co-educational, comprehensive secondary school with 1,375 students. The staff comprises 57 full-time teachers and 19 auxiliary staff. HEADMASTER The principal is Mr Lau Hou-ting who holds BA (Hon), CUHK; Dip Ed, CUHK; MA, HKU; Dip in School Administration; and Dip in Management, HKU. Mr Lau has 12 years' teaching experience. TEACHING LANGUAGE Students are taught mainly in English. Chinese is also used as the medium of instruction. ACTIVITIES The school offers a wide range of activities for the students. There are 14 academic societies and 16 interest, athletic and extra-curricular clubs, including the music society, dance club, drama club, sports club and kung fu club. Students interested in music can take part in the school choir and the Chinese orchestra. SPORTS Students are encouraged to take part in badminton, basketball, volleyball and other sports and athletic activities. FACILITIES The school has 26 classrooms, 15 special rooms, two integrated science laboratories for the junior forms, a chemistry laboratory, a physics laboratory and a biology laboratory for the senior forms, a playing field, a hall, an all-purpose rooftop and a library with 5,000 books. Field trips are organised regularly for geography and science subjects. SCHOLARSHIPS The Ma Kam Chan Scholarship. Members of the Ma family have donated $500,000 as a foundation fund for scholarships. PREFECTS There are 67 prefects who are headed by Wong Yuk-lin and Yiu Wai-ming.