Educating Hong Kong’s Youth

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The Salvation Army’s involvement in the Hong Kong education system

by Christin Davis –

Students at the Chan Kwan Tung Kindergarten.

School doesn’t only teach us about grammar and arithmetic; it’s in the sandboxes and at the play dough table that we learn about the basics of life—about friendship and about our own intrinsic ability to marvel at the surrounding world.

In Hong Kong, The Salvation Army is actively involved in the development of children.

The Army operates a total of 30 schools in Hong Kong—five primary schools, one secondary school, one special education school for primary and secondary students, six kindergartens and 17 nursery schools—educating roughly 8,000 students throughout the region.

“From the point of view of the community, we are providers of quality, value-based education,” said Major Jim Weymouth, Army school supervisor in Hong Kong. “Parents choose our schools because they like the service we provide and the values we represent—parent choice is the final arbiter of success.”

The building of involvement
Hong Kong lies on the eastern side of the Pearl River Delta, a collection of 262 small islands and peninsulas that amount to just over 400 square miles. The area has become a vastly urbanized home for almost seven million people. Now called a “Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China,” it once was a trading port during the 19th century. Hong Kong—“fragrant harbor”—is a leading financial center for the world today.

Salvation Army presence in Hong Kong began in the 1930s with the first corps opening its doors in Kowloon City in 1937; today there are 20 corps. The following year, 1938, the Army launched its first primary school. After World War II ended, the Army focused on social welfare and religious services, initiating a number of new schools and orphanages. In the ensuing years, Hong Kong experienced a dramatic population increase with an influx in migration from China. The Salvation Army and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) responded by providing schools with the full cooperation and financial support of the government. Today, NGOs have become the main education providers in Hong Kong, offering free education on a non-discriminatory basis to all children ages 6 to 15.

The Hong Kong Basic Law took effect in 1997 when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China, no longer under British rule. The constitutional document was established to ensure a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing Hong Kong to maintain its capitalist structure and ensuring a number of freedoms and rights for Hong Kong residents. It also preserved the right for religious and other bodies to retain autonomy in providing education as long as they adhere to the Education Ordinance that details policies for the safety and well being of students.

Educating today
The mission statement of Salvation Army schools is to:

• Provide an example of Christian values, helping students to develop in character and make meaningful life-long decisions.
• Assist all students to discover their potential by providing holistic education, which includes academic learning along with emotional, social, spiritual and physical development.
• Provide a positive, cooperative environment that fosters self-discipline, enthusiasm for learning and growing independence.
• Give particular attention to those with special needs.
• Support and encourage staff members to become leaders in provision of quality education, through continuing personal and professional development.
• Involve parents as partners in the education process, and provide support and training for the parenting process.
“There are many quality Christian schools in Hong Kong, but our name and values are distinct,” Weymouth said. “There are four aspects of our role that are critical—providing a point of engagement between the Army and the community, providing quality holistic care to the children, proclaiming the gospel in an age-appropriate manner, and bringing new members into The Salvation Army.”

The Army is responsible to set the mission and vision for each school, to provide staffing and financial management, and is accountable for the staff-run daily school operation. Each school (excluding pre-schools) is governed by an Incorporated Management Counsel (IMC) that is responsible for the strategic, financial and human resource management of the school. As the school sponsor, Army personnel can make up 60 percent of each school’s IMC; other members come from the community. These individuals each have a particular responsibility to ensure the school is operating according to the Army-declared mission and vision.

“Salvation Army schools provide an opportunity for evangelism,” said Lt. Colonel Mervyn Rowland, general secretary over Hong Kong, Macau and China. “They provide an opportunity for expanding the Christian faith.”

Curriculum standards are set by the government and must be followed but do not include criteria for religious education.

“The utmost important thing for The Salvation Army to do is be in education in Hong Kong,” said Ken Choi, a graduate of the primary Ann Wyllie Memorial School and now a police inspector in Hong Kong. “The school helped me learn about Christ early, get used to prayer and develop religion in my life.”

Aligning values a priority
Recent research has indicated a shift to smaller family sizes in Hong Kong causing a slower rate of population growth. The Army is beginning to feel the effects of this trend as the number of school-age children decreases in Hong Kong. With slowing enrollment, Army schools face a challenge in competing for enrollment with other NGO-run schools.

“The key to providing quality education in the name of Jesus is values alignment,” Weymouth said. “I believe that if we can help our staff, at every level, be united by a common sense of purpose and a common approach, then we are very likely to survive the tough times.”

Over the past year, Weymouth has emphasized with staff the three values of quality, synergy, and encouragement and is working with staff members to develop a more extensive statement and ownership of values.

Future plans are to maintain high standards in existing programs and to gradually develop new initiatives, one of which is to open a new primary school campus in 2008.

“I am giving energy to ‘who we are,’” Weymouth said. “If we get this right, I think the ‘what we do’ issues will flow naturally.”

The Army has found a niche for captivating a youthful audience of potential soldiers in Hong Kong—one sandbox and play dough table at a time.

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