SOTY 2016: Best Improvement contenders prove how they’ve been putting their best foot forward

By Andrea Zavadszky

This year’s Student of the Year – Best Improvement hopefuls seriously impressed the judges with their resilience and perseverance in the face of impossible odds

By Andrea Zavadszky |

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A lack of encouragement, falling in with the wrong crowd, having a disability ... many hardships that young people face can seem insurmountable, but this year’s Student of the Year – Best Improvement finalists have demonstrated to the judges the great strength of mind they’ve had to have in order to change their lives for the better.

“Judging the competition has given me a new understanding of youngsters, especially those who come from a more disadvantaged background,” said Olga Wong, Hong Kong news editor at South China Morning Post. “These children didn’t give up and have become better people.”

Chloe Chan took her drive for sports and put it to her schoolwork.

Chloe Chan Pui-kei, 16, didn’t like studying. What she did have a talent for, though, was running – something that netted her a seat in the prestigious Good Hope secondary school and into division one in athletics. But just being able to run fast wasn’t good enough for the school, and because of her lack of enthusiasm for schoolwork, her results were as low enough that she had to repeat her first year. Knowing that she needed to have good grades to stay in, she redoubled her studying efforts.

“I wanted to stay in this school because I wanted to join division one [for running],” she explained. Going to a band two or three school would mean she’d lose her chance to be a division one athlete.

Now, Chloe has passing grades in all of her subjects. Thanks to her efforts to make friends at school, do her homework and revise properly for the tests, she is articulate, self-confident and speaks fluent English. She believes she has improved in many aspects of her life: academically, personally and athletically.

“I train three or four times a week,” she added. “I set goals for my performance. In my second year I was the champion of my grade. Last June, I set the Hong Kong junior record. My aim is to break the Hong Kong women’s record for the 100m.”

Young people are easily influenced by friends, she said, and her advice for others like her is to find friends that they can look up to, who are also good influences. “My future is important and I don’t want to be affected throughout my life [by my past choices].”

Jezz Chen Ming-pui, 19, is in Form Six in The Society of Boy’s Centres – Hui Chung Sing Memorial School. Jezz used to skip classes all the time, and has been through three different schools. He used to get into fights a lot, and has previously been in trouble with the police too. It was only when his girlfriend left him, that he began to rethink his life.

“I didn’t want to go down that road [again],” he said, adding that his family and his teachers never gave up on him. Now not only does he study properly, he also works with a party entertainment company at the weekend, working his way from being an assistant, to a clown, and to a magician.

Luk Chun, 18 and a Buddhist Wong Wan Tin College student, is also a reformed rebel – now instead of acting out, he gives back to the community. In the past year alone, he has put in more than 300 hours of service in his local community.

For some, even if they did want to study, there were other barriers in place. School was difficult for Hung Huangmei, 15, because she couldn’t speak Cantonese or English when she arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland. Two years later, not only can she speak both languages, she has also discovered a love of robotics and has attended a competition in India.

Mohamed Afser Sultan Basha, 19, came to Hong Kong as a refugee with his father. Like Huangmei, he also had problems with learning Cantonese – but now the Form Six student studies at PAOC Ka Chi Secondary School and has dreams of obtaining a university degree before he returns to his native India. When asked about what he wants to do after that, he added that he wants to become a police officer and help uphold law and order in his home country.

Kwok Hui-ming didn't let her disability get in thw way.

Others, like Kwok Hui-ming, have had to live life with a disability. Hui-ming, 16, is a Hong Kong Red Cross Princess Alexandra School student and suffers from cerebral palsy. She says she tries to be an example to her classmates of how to live a positive life and how to smile even when you might be suffering. Hui-ming added that in the future she wants to become a social worker and help spread positivity to others.

Amy Chan, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Racing Development Board Manager and headmistress of the Apprentice Jockeys’ School said that although SOTY only highlight a handful of outstanding students of Hong Kong, being able to improve as an individual is an achievement worth praising in everyone. “We have to recognise the efforts that ordinary people make to improve themselves too,” the judge added.

The Student of the Year Awards are organised by Young Post in conjunction with the South China Morning Post and sponsored by the Hong Kong Jockey club with support from the Education Bureau.

Edited by Ginny Wong