When I was offered the post of Assistant Principal by the School Management Committee, I supposed that the committee agreed with my vision that the Vocablearning Project must be the first step we need to take to give Wah Yan an about turn. I stated the importance of the Project very clearly in my letter of application. Without this supposition, I would not accept the offer and would not take up the post of Assistant Principal because the job is simply a mission impossible.
When the support to the project disappears, the hope to revitalize Wah Yan vanishes as well.
I think my appointment is similar to what happened to Michael Woodford, the CEO of Olympus Japan in 2011. (Olympus Scandal). In the scandal, the stock price of Olympus plunged by more than 75% in a month (Oct 2011 – Nov 2011). (Reuter Stock Quote).
If the School Management Committee didn’t agree with my vision, I think they had made a terribly wrong decision by appointing me as the Assistant Principal. And I also made a terribly wrong decision in accepting the offer.
The following is my letter of application written in 2009.
Six Years. This is what we need to give Wah Yan an about turn.
I must admit that my mind is still very much living in those good old days when I was a kid. When Wah Yan was still competing in Division I athletic meet, when my classmates snatched the overall English Debate Championship and when we were performing well academically while not putting too much emphasis on examination..
In recent years, whenever the teachers were discussing the future of Wah Yan, the outlook was always rather grim. Nobody believed that we can revitalize the spirit and save our students from the dire of desperation. Some teachers even put the blame on students, management or some other colleagues.
Frankly speaking, I have great empathy on those disgruntled teachers. They felt helpless in handling the daunting task of struggling in the hiatus between students, parents, old boys and the management. They were under tremendous pressure to perform but found no way to do so.
I realized that the answer is already beyond the capacity of a normal teacher or can be solved by common sense management.
Perhaps, most of us have already forgotten the difficulties of being a student as it was a very remote memory to most of us.
For a kid studied in a Chinese speaking primary school, doing most subjects in English in Form 1 is almost an insurmountable task. My mother recalled that my elder sister, who was first in the form when she had been studying in Precious Blood Primary School, cried for the whole month long when she was first admitted to St. Paul Secondary School. We also realized similar shortfalls when we were interviewing the top boys recommended by the schools from the Southern District during the Form 1 admission process.
As the father of 3 kids, I know that even small class teaching will not be the solution. Probably, it will only be a waste of resources and reinforce the feeling of helplessness.
Teaching reading is an extremely labor intensive job. Traditionally, this is done through bedtime reading by a full time housewife over a period of 5 to 10 years. I found that I even have difficulty in doing so to all my 3 kids. Small class teaching will only work if we can lower the student-teacher ratio to 10 or below.
Besides this, there is also a cultural barrier. “Do not want to lose face” is a culture deep rooted in many Chinese. For most Chinese, if they are not certain that their answers/opinions are correct or acceptable, they would rather keep their mouth shut. This is a great obstacle to language learning unless we can create an appropriate language atmosphere and do the teaching in a very intimate way.
Finally, I came up with a solution.
Recently, I completed most of the functions of a custom build web application that I designed to help F7 chemistry students, F4 chemistry students and F3 liberal students to enhance their general learning ability and memory of subject content. Indeed, I also used it to teach my kids Mathematics, English and Chinese and my wife Japanese.
The concept was first conceived a few years ago when a F6 student told me that he wanted to go to US to further his study but had about 100 marks fall short in his first two attempts of Verbal SAT.
I suggested him a method based on my understanding of cognitive psychology and designed a study program for him. He followed the program for about 3 months before taking his last SAT attempt. Eventually, he managed to get about 100 marks more (which means 1 standard deviation in SAT).
I immediately realized the potential of the concept and invested almost all my spare time in the last few years, probably over thousands of hours in doing language research review, learning and doing programming, conducting free vocabulary class for wahyanites, experimenting different language teaching strategies. Eventually, I come up with this web application.
From the experience of the pilot users (including students, graduates, my kids, myself, kids of some colleagues and some colleagues), the program can greatly enhance the learning efficiency of the users, boost their learning motivation and create a virtuous cycle of learning. So far, the feedbacks from all the users, who can persist for more than 3 months, are all very positive. All the critics are from those who don’t have the first hand experience of the program or from those who have used the program for less than 3 months. Personally, I also used the program to acquire over 10,000 new words in the last 2 years and have my reading ability greatly enhanced.
As far as I know, I am the only liberal studies teacher taking the task of teaching liberal studies in English very seriously. Many colleagues just think that it is simply impossible and the management will annul the decision soon. My faith does not come from nothing. It is from all the researches and preparations that I did in all these years. I suppose I have solved the most pressing learning problem to be faced by the students already if we can do a school wide launch of the application.
The next task on my schedule is the disciplinary problem and the solidarity of the school.
I am planning to use a concept similar to vocabulary learning to remember the faces of every single wahyanite in a year. Once I can do that, I am quite sure that I will be able to solve most intricate discipline problems, including mass assemblies, politely and assist those teachers working in troublesome classrooms without offending them. It will also be convincing to encourage some colleagues to follow suit.
Lastly, it is desirable to channel more resource to sports development. As a teacher who has the experience of teaching in La Salle College and Maryknoll Convent, I fully understand the role of sports in uniting a school. It can involve almost all stakeholders and make them feel that they are part of Wah Yan. This is simply not achievable through any other activities. Good schools are not managed by coercion, they are managed by internal motivation.
While learning, discipline and solidarity are getting back to the right track, we could go back to our real mission – Forming the values of our next generation.
I would say six years, at minimum, is what we need. There is no quick fix.