Mum achieves primary objective by opening school for daughter
Adriana Chan’s dream of giving daughter a good education comes true with launch of her trilingual Spanish Primary School in Tai Po
Wanting to ensure her young daughter had the best possible primary education, Adriana Chan took a step few other parents would have considered.
She resolved to establish a brand-new school, a move which, within certain limits, would also allow her to have a direct influence on the guiding philosophy, choice of curriculum, preferred teaching methods, and the general learning environment.
Everything came together when the first pupils in the first and second years began classes at the Spanish Primary School in Tai Po in September. But in her dual role as founder and principal, Chan is well aware that what she has already achieved is part of a longer journey.
“As a mother, I thought a good education was the best gift I could give,” she says. “I had a vision for my daughter and a clear teaching philosophy and, fortunately, was able to find a suitable school site last year.”
The basic objective is to offer youngsters trilingual teaching in Spanish, English and Mandarin. The framework for this is Britain’s national curriculum, which provides a solid grounding and is widely recognised as both well established and well rounded. It focuses on giving a strong foundation and the knowledge essential for future learning.
Elsewhere, though, the school follows Spain’s national curriculum for Spanish language, art and PE classes, with the standard Hong Kong curriculum used for teaching Mandarin.
There are classes in all three languages every day, and each of them is also used as a medium of instruction for other lessons.
“That means pupils are totally immersed,” Chan says. “For example, they will study maths in Chinese and general studies and IT in English.”
The school’s particular emphasis on Spanish came about for three main reasons. Firstly, it is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages in terms of the number of native speakers. Secondly, when Chan initially floated the idea of a specialised primary school, staff at the local consulates of Spain, Mexico and Argentina gave enthusiastic support. And, thirdly, she herself had studied the language at the University of Hong Kong and knew how useful it could be in other parts of the world.
“The kids really love Spanish and pick it up very quickly,” Chan says. “In fact, we ran a Spanish speech festival in early November where each child presented a poem. They all really enjoyed it, and the parents were very impressed too.”
To promote appreciation of Spanish life and culture in other ways, the school is going to feature different artists, such as Picasso, every month. There will also be regular events, sometimes arranged with the help of a consulate or leading companies, to introduce things like flamenco dancing, traditional drama and even tapas.
“This is the best way to ‘get in touch’ with Spanish culture and give a context for learning the language,” Chan says. “But that goes with wanting our students to be fully trilingual.”
To that end, during the planning phase, she worked with a team of academic advisers and sought input from experts at the Education University of Hong Kong on the best methodology.
Separately, she also developed a course, which she now teaches, covering morals, personal qualities, teamwork, and even aspects of leadership.
“In these classes, I use a lot of discussion and scenario-based examples,” Chan says. “These days, we talk about innovative education, and I certainly want the school to be innovative. But it is also very important to teach children traditional values and good behaviour. I want students to make the right choices, so my course will develop gradually to give a sense of responsibility, as well as teaching presentation and public speaking skills, which are great for enhancing self-confidence from a young age.”
Term-time classes run from 8.20am to 3.30pm with a usual eight lessons per day. There is a daily morning assembly, as well as a concluding 20-minute period where class teachers offer support and deal with any learning difficulties in maths, languages or other subjects.
As for homework, assignments are given only once a week - on Fridays – with teachers running through most of the exercises in advance. The thinking behind this is not to burden youngsters unnecessarily. Rather, any homework is seen more as a handy way of keeping parents in the picture on what is being taught and the general rate of progress.
“We want parents to know what their kids are doing and to help at home in developing good learning habits and regular study time,” Chan says. “There are no exams, but we do have quizzes to ensure pupils understand the subjects and concepts and that they are motivated to learn.”
All the teachers are native speakers of Spanish, English or Mandarin, and the intention is that they will create the feeling that everyone in the classroom is learning together. They are also asked to show and encourage creativity. And, in a school where much is starting from scratch, they must be ready to pitch in and lend a hand where necessary.
“I have to admit I’m a very picky principal and generally believe in an ‘old school’ style of teaching,” says Chan, a former police inspector who spent seven years with the force. “But I remember dealing with teenagers, some from quite well off backgrounds, who seemed to have no purpose or determination in life. I always felt so sorry for them because every human being starts off with so much potential.”
At present, her plan is to add an extra class each year to take children up to Primary 6. Overall, though, class sizes will remain relatively small to ensure sufficient individual attention and pastoral care.
“You have to let kids enjoy their childhood and not force them to grow up too fast,” she says. “Also, in kindergarten and primary classes, you can’t be too strict. The aim is to teach children to think carefully, look for answers, and ask themselves if something is a sensible choice.”
To build a strong sense of community, there will be frequent interaction on all the relevant issues.
“Parents have a say and they are very welcome to get involved in everything,” Chan says. “Their trust is very important, so there are regular PTA meetings and we communicate all the time. We want to find the best solutions for students and, therefore, treasure all the opinions offered.”
As it happens, this latest initiative is not her first such venture. Going back a few years, Chan previously founded a childcare centre and then a kindergarten in Causeway Bay, which now offer classes for around 100 youngsters in pre-nursery to K3.
“That led to the idea of founding a primary school for my daughter – she’s here now under my ‘surveillance’ – but, of course, for the other pupils as well. Looking ahead, my dream is to start a secondary school on a nearby site in three to four years and to see the students go on to their first choice of university. Beyond that, I’d like to see one of my students go on to be a great leader in the future.
“The first requirement, though, is to give each child a sense of belonging, so they will be happy and always remember and feel proud of being a student at this school.”