Leading lights: Winner of English public speaking contest calls out how HK's education system underrates students' worth

The top three students in a public speaking contest us how they approached the task and succeeded in getting their message across

Nicola Chan |

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The top trio (from left) Elvis, Alysha Bibi and Lam Lem crafted their speeches around social issues and the meaning of life.

Albert Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Inspired by the scientist’s wisdom, 18-year-old Elvis Tsang decided to use his two minutes on stage to call attention to the injustice of our city’s education system, one that underrates a student’s worth.

On February 16, the Form Six student from La Salle College won the grand final of “The Speaker 2019” English Public Speaking Contest held at RTHK, in Kowloon Tong.

Organised by RTHK’s Development & Culture and Education Unit, the citywide competition attracted 285 young speakers from more than 90 local and international schools. They had to submit a two-minute speech on the theme “Wonder”. In addition to their main speeches, the top 10 finalists used their wit to create a one-minute impromptu speech by connecting three random words.

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Young Post spoke to Elvis, and champion, and the first and second runners-up, Alysha Bibi and Lam Lem, earlier this month to learn more about their winning speeches.

“Not all of my peers excel in their studies, but a lot of them are talented in certain areas, like music and sports. Some of them are champions of interschool, or even worldwide, competitions,” said Elvis.

“I think it’s unfair for them to be judged based [purely] on their academic performance.”

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As one of the victims of such a distorted education system, he crafted a speech on giving students “the freedom to wonder”, while highlighting the city’s flawed and unfair assessment of a student’s abilities.

“It doesn’t make sense to evaluate a student’s capabilities solely based on their exam scores, and this is especially unreasonable for those who spend most of their time practising and improving on areas they excel in,” said Elvis. “I think we need to change our education system into one that celebrates diversity.”

First runner-up Alysha, 17, also sees the importance of embracing diversity, except from a different perspective. “I am a Pakistani immigrant … and I face many different challenges [living in Hong Kong],” said the Form Five student from DMHC Siu Ming Catholic Secondary School.

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Noticing how individual differences can generate hatred and divide our world, Alysha hoped to remind her audience that we all “belong to the same human race”, despite our individuality.

“I really wanted to use my [“A Land of Wonders”] speech to spread the message that we should put aside our differences and unite to make this world a better place, and be happy,” she said.

Unlike Elvis and Alysha, Lem, 16 and the second runner-up, did not craft a speech surrounding social issues. Instead, she focused on provoking listeners to question the meaning of life. “When I was drafting my speech, I asked myself how well I wanted to perform in the contest, and what’s next if I entered the semi-finals … It then reminded me of my [seven-year-old] cousin who kept asking me the question “And then?” because he was very curious about my everyday life,” the Form Five student from Good Hope Secondary School told Young Post.

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“It was a really simple question. But it can also be a big, philosophical one if you ask yourself the question before taking every action and making every decision,” she said.

Believing that only a few of us are consciously aware of the purpose of our actions, Lam decided to create a speech surrounding “And then?” – a question that stemmed from a child’s wonder – and then discuss the importance of living our own lives.

A first-time public speaker, Lem said her major obstacle wasn’t writing or delivering the speech, but explaining to her teacher why she wanted to make it “fun” and “unique” instead of a serious one that could spark social impact – an approach taken by many of her competitors.

The champion, Elvis Tsang, based his speech on the injustice of our city’s education system.
Photo: Radio Television Hong Kong

Meanwhile, Alysha – an experienced public speaker – found it difficult to “squeeze everything [she wanted to talk about] into two minutes”, the shortest time limit she’s had to deal with so far in a competition.

“There was also extra pressure knowing the contest would be broadcast on television later because you had to always present yourself well throughout the show, instead of just the few minutes on stage,” said Elvis.

But the trio agreed that making a speech about what they truly believed in helped them overcome the obstacles and stage fright. “If you believe in your speech, other people will, and that’s the major thing that will help you succeed in presenting a wonderful speech,” said Lem.

The contest will be shown on RTHK’s TV31 and 31A on April 19

Edited by M. J. Premaratne