Why do these Hongkongers tutor underprivileged students for free?
An idea that surfaced among high school classmates 14 years ago launched a project helping lower-income children in the city get a better shot at life
To many Hong Kong children, after-school tutorials deliver an essential edge in the city’s exam-obsessed educational system. But to those of modest incomes, such private lessons are an unaffordable luxury, and as a result, many pupils risk being left behind.
However, a group of Wah Yan College alumni are hoping to change that in the form of a unique tutoring programme called the Tin Shui Wai English Tutorial Project.
Project co-founder Daniel Mak Wah-hung recalls the idea surfaced 14 years ago during a trip he took with about a dozen fellow Wah Yan alumni who all graduated from the elite school in 1971.
“At the time, most of us were over 50 years old and some had already retired,” says Mak, a former CEO who retired from his high-flying position 15 years ago. “We talked about what contributions we could make to society after we left our jobs.”
One thing they had in common was “a good command of English”.
The group agreed that once they retired they would help children in the city lacking in educational guidance and home support. They chose Tin Shui Wai to embark on their project.
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Mak says the bleak reputation of the town – located in the New Territories and an hour’s commute from Hong Kong Island – motivated them to “plant the seeds of change”.
“It was dubbed the ‘city of sadness’ after a series of suicides of young children due to academic pressure,” he explains. “It was also revealed that the average academic performance of many pupils there was far behind that of their counterparts in other districts, particularly in English.”
And so their efforts began, in 2015, with 12 tutors assigned to about 80 Form Two to Form Four pupils from Caritas Lok Kan School. Two years on, the Tin Shui Wai English Tutorial Project has expanded and served over 600 students total as of June last year. The tutoring ranks now count 60 volunteers.
Along the way, Mak met Ivan Luk Shau-yin, a fellow Wah Yan alumnus who graduated in 1982.
Luk joined the tutor programme last year when he returned to Hong Kong after living in Chicago for 30 years.
Having spent decades climbing to the highest levels of the IT industry, Luk decided it was time for him to step back from his professional ambitions and devote more time giving back to society.
“You wouldn’t believe how behind some of these pupils are,” Luk says. “There are Form Six kids who are getting ready to take the Diploma of Secondary Education examination, but most of them can’t even construct a complete sentence.”
However, the challenges do not deter him.
“I tell them about the importance of the English language and the opportunities for career advancement if they have a better command of it,” Luk adds.
With its mission of leaving no children behind, the project has grown to include more than 10 schools across the city in various areas such as Tuen Mun, Kwai Chung and Pok Fu Lam.
Aside from teaching English, the group has expanded into supporting pupils in career planning.
More than academically valuable instruction, Mak, Luk and the tutors hope they are offering sensible life advice that the children can use well beyond their days in the classroom.