City Weekend

Bright sparks on mission to educate Hong Kong’s needy children

Arnold Chan’s charity Teach4HK places top university graduates at schools in poorer areas for a year – but finding recruits isn’t always easy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 February, 2018, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 February, 2018, 12:11pm

Armed with a business degree and working for an investment bank, the future couldn’t have been brighter for Arnold Chan Kwan-yeung. So it’s hard to imagine the 28-year-old is still trying to make ends meet.

But Chan is not scrambling to make a living, he is maintaining his NGO Teach4HK, a local charity that places top university graduates as teachers in underprivileged schools for a full school year.

The founder and CEO – who comes from a middle class family and is a former alumnus of the elite boys’ school La Salle College – understands the value of opportunity.

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“I still remember being in Form Three and visiting students in subdivided flats. I still have a very clear memory of seeing those kids sitting on their beds, trying to do their homework,” he says.

“It made me reflect on the education and opportunities I was receiving back then, was it equal for all?”

After three years with investment banking giant Goldman Sachs, Chan decided to part company, taking up a volunteer position at Teach for China, a programme similar to Teach For America, which trains high-achieving graduates and sends them into schools in poor areas for two years.

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The experience really struck a chord and gave him the idea for Teach4HK.

“All children in the city should have equal access to quality education that can help them realise their potential,” says Chan, who has a degree in global business from Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The bigger role for me to play is to empower the leaders of tomorrow to create more organic systematic change because that can never happen with only one organisation or one person.”

He has come up with a model for Hong Kong to follow.

“This should be a lifelong mission to be a leader to fight for education for underprivileged kids because, OK, I have helped this one child, what about the others? How about next year?”

Teach4HK enlists outstanding university graduates to serve in schools with needy students for 10 months and provides fellows with a monthly stipend of HK$10,000 (US$1,280).

The charity has taught more than 9,000 pupils since its launch in 2014, with 24 fellows in 12 partner schools. The number is expected to jump greatly in the next academic year, with the programme covering up to 20 schools in September.

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In the process of striving to give all children an equal education, Chan has also seen a need to close the city’s wide wealth gap.

“I know from my upbringing that not everyone can have the education I was lucky enough to get. We’ve had cases where some didn’t know where Causeway Bay was or didn’t know the word ‘people’.”

I got a lot of opposition from my parents when I made a career detour. They wanted me to start making big bucks after graduation
Ernest Wong, programme officer

Teach4HK has so far raised around HKS10 million (US$1.28 million) from the private sector from donors such as the D. H. Chen Foundation and railway operator the MTR. Despite its success, the group is still having trouble recruiting fellows.

“How do we attract the most outstanding young graduates from Hong Kong? [Do we] say, ‘Oh, don’t go for investment banking, don’t go for the big corporates, work in an underprivileged school.”

While it’s not so easy to find young bright minds willing to give up high paying jobs to teach, along the way, Chan has come across some who have the same kind of passion, kindness and empathy.

One such person is 25-year-old Ernest Wong Chang-zhe, who enrolled in the programme in 2016 and has since joined Teach4HK as a full-time programme officer.

“I got a lot of opposition from my parents when I made a career detour. They wanted me to start making big bucks after graduation,” Wong says.

Wong, who taught English for a year, has sympathy for the children.

“I went in wanting to impart knowledge, but once I stepped into the classroom, I realised that a lot of the children had a shaky foundation.”

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Wong says one of the biggest challenges is the children’s lack of motivation.

“As long as they are interested in my teaching and I have somehow affected them in their learning process in a positive way, I already see that as a success,” he says.

“This movement is not only a one-year service but about nurturing leaders to continue to serve this field whether they stay or not.”