Special curriculum helps creative Hong Kong students gain skills
Students at a school in Kowloon City can express themselves as artists while also striving to meet academic standards
There's a liberal, university-like atmosphere at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity in Kowloon City. Along its ground-floor "creative promenade", students and teachers engage in discussions on art and life, addressing one another by first names. It seems unlike any mainstream secondary school in Hong Kong.
Founded in 2006, Lee Shau Kee School is a direct subsidy scheme senior secondary school that offers Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education courses and a creative arts curriculum that it developed itself. Starting this past school year, incoming students in Form Four could enrol in the school's special "double track" curriculum, fulfilling requirements towards both the mainstream school-leaving qualification as well as the recently accredited Diploma in Creative Arts (DCA) before they graduate.
Most students at the school are artistically talented but lack the academic heft valued in conventional organisations.
The school's mission is to provide a liberal environment where they can develop different learning styles and chart diverse career paths.
"We nurture outliers because they are the ones who will bring diversity to our culturally and socially homogeneous society in the future," says deputy principal Lau Tin-ming. "Our students may not be academically talented in the traditional sense, but each of them has a potential that is our job to cultivate."
This humanistic ideal of education is pervasive at the school. "Double track" students devote afternoons to the Creative Professional-Orientated Programme, a hands-on, portfolio-building component of the DCA curriculum. Divided into four areas - performing arts, film art, visual communication and spatial studies - the programme is led by practising artists, performers and other creative professionals, who see themselves more as mentors than teachers.
Aside from the creative guidance from this uniquely qualified faculty, the DCA curriculum also gives students a thorough theoretical grounding in the humanities, exposing them to areas such as Western and Chinese art history, Hong Kong cinema and philosophy, which are not included in the mainstream curriculum.
"The theory portion of our diploma puts our students' creative endeavours in a context of cultural knowledge," says Lau, who has played a big part in designing the curriculum. "As aspiring artists, they need to have a keen understanding of cultural phenomena in the world and be able to form their critique about them in thoughtful ways."
The school's humanistic philosophy is also reflected in the DCA curriculum's assessment framework, which does not include examinations. Theory courses require students to explore their ideas in discussions and presentations, while practical courses assess students based on coursework and a final creative project.
The enthusiasm is palpable in Cristo Lau's spatial studies classroom, where Form Four student Yoyo Kwok is busy drawing a cross-section of an architectural model of her dream home.
"At this school, we always have to be self-motivated," she says, "but that's not hard, as it's so much fun to create and learn in a hands-on way."
In the visual communications classroom, the wall is covered by illustrations of students' English writing assignments - a tribute to the DCA curriculum's emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. "Students devote all their time to creative work in the programme," says instructor Walkman Yip, who has a degree from Polytechnic University and is a practising artist. "It can be intimidating to be in creative mode all the time, but what we bring is our own experience. The liberal environment here definitely makes it easier for us to motivate them."
For their final project in performing arts class, students must prepare an original three-minute solo performance to showcase their creative talent. One student decided to personify the actions of her dog when her family is not around by using the expressive body movements she acquired through the course. Another student performed a stand-up comedy routine showcasing a range of voices he has been exploring with the help of instructor Dick Wong, a seasoned choreographer and theatre professional.
The school's stimulating curriculum is complemented by a range of invaluable extracurricular opportunities. In particular, two campus residency programmes bring in artists to share their work and mentor students. One programme is dedicated to a traditional but obscure Hong Kong craft - this year, two experienced puppet makers led workshops in creating large-scale Chinese paper puppets for an upcoming stage performance.
The other artist in residence, Niko Leung, came back to Hong Kong after studying and working in the Netherlands. Intrigued by the forms that could be produced on a turning wheel, Leung experiments with the light and spatial characteristics of plaster sculptures with students in her campus studio every day. Her plan is to produce a large-scale sculpture for the school's Creative Promenade based on her research.
Perhaps because of its perceived lack of academic focus, some parents have reservations about the school. But more parents are starting to embrace its liberal philosophy after seeing their unmotivated children grow to love learning in its creative environment. Others are moved to see its students succeed in various avenues, whether further studies or work.
Transcending art and culture, the school's humanistic education philosophy is, at its core, about allowing each individual student to succeed in their own way.
"If we call ourselves an educational institution, we must lead our students to reach their goals, however different they may be," says deputy principal Lau. "We cannot just teach students how to paint or dance; we need to see them as individuals, not entities defined by grades."