From the ordinary to the extraordinary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 August, 2007, 12:00am

There is nothing out of the ordinary about Ho Hoi-lam's upbringing or the schools she has attended, nor anything unusual about missing out on a coveted place in an exclusive girls' school. What sets her apart from the crowd is that she sat the recent Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination at 14 and almost came top.

A student at the Chinese-medium Tung Wah Group of Hospitals Lo Kon Ting Memorial School in Yuen Long, Hoi-lam achieved eight A grades, a 5* in Chinese language and 5 in English. Moreover, as we report today, she sat all the exams in English, except Chinese language, Putonghua and history.

Parents of all means strive to send their children to private or English-medium schools. Many would go to the trouble of achieving that by forking out millions to buy a home close to an elite school. A small number have even been found to have tried to bribe their way into such schools by greasing the palms of those with connections.

It is therefore refreshing to see Hoi-lam showing that an elite or English-medium education is not a prerequisite even for high proficiency in English. The home and school learning culture and the vocational commitment of teachers can count for as much. Perhaps Hoi-lam's greatest achievement is to challenge the belief that talent cannot be nurtured in ordinary environments.

In label-conscious Hong Kong, people often place more emphasis on a name, a brand or a reputation than the quality on offer. Hoi-lam's humble success represents a welcome departure from the obsession with being seen doing the right thing rather than doing the right thing.

A government adviser is reported in our newspaper today as saying that ordinary schools might even be able to offer gifted children more support due to their lack of 'historical baggage'. What we are seeing here is a move away from traditional attitudes, whether in the home or in school, that go hand-in-glove with the education reforms so hard-fought for over the past few years.

Hoi-lam has done herself and her family proud, but she has also shown Hong Kong what can be achieved with the right attitude.