Erin Hale –
The latest available data showed over 50 per cent of form 3 (grade9) pupils and over 70 per cent of form 6 (grade 12) pupils receive some form of tutoring, according to Mark Bray the UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong –
Decked out in a headset, sleek dress shirt, and trendy haircut at the front of a drab classroom, Hong Kong “super tutor” YY Lam shouts advice to his pupils with the kind of fervour usually reserved for political rallies.
But rather than agitating for economic or social change, Lam is advising high school pupils on how to take the Chinese segment of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), which will determine if they get a spot at one of the city’s public universities or technical colleges.
Lam’s shouting ends after a few seconds – it’s a video clip that Lamplays from his private office in Mong Kok district on a Saturday afternoon. While he is arguably Hong Kong’s most famous tutor and is employed by Beacon College, the school did not open its doors to the press or reply to requests for comment.
“In Chinese daily school, we are just repeating the same curriculum.We don’t need to do much preparation because it’s just repeating the test book,” he says, describing his teaching method. “[In] tutorial class, we are trying to present the same thing in a fun way, in an interesting way.”
“Fun” might not be the best adjective, but whatever his technique, YYLam is hugely popular – so much so that in 2015 a rival tutoringcentre offered him an 11 million dollar contract in a full-page newspaper advertisement.
While Beacon’s tutors may be local celebrities, they are just one part of what the city has to offer from one-on-one tutoring to large lecture-based venues. The Hong Kong Trade Development Council predicted the industry was worth 2.7 billion Hong Kong dollars (346million US dollars) in 2015.
Not all tutoring centres are the same, however. Smaller ones like Mini Grandmasters in Causeway Bay, where high school pupil Thomas Wong goes each week for four subjects. Tutoring is individual and the volume level is much lower.
The primary reason he goes is “school is too difficult” and he feels tutors can also “teach you more.”
“I like it,” he said. “[It’s] a lot of fun doing lessons.”
For other pupils, the pressure and emotional stress can be crippling,pushing some to the extreme. An average of 23 pupils a year committed suicide between 2010 and 2014, according to the South China Morning Post.
The demand for excellence is also feeding the industry.
The latest available data showed over 50 per cent of form 3 (grade9) pupils and over 70 per cent of form 6 (grade 12) pupils receive some form of tutoring, according to Mark Bray the UNESCO Chair Professor in Comparative Education at the University of Hong Kong.
In a region known for cram schools and rigorous test-based learning,tutors like Lam exist in a league of their own, says Bray. “They doexist elsewhere but they’re not as brash as they are in Hong Kong,”he said.
Tutoring has also accelerated in the last ten years, Bray said, in part because of the opening of Hong Kong’s tertiary school system.
While Hong Kong had only two major universities as late as themid-1990s, there are now eight-publicly funded universities and a number of other private colleges.
“[In the 1980’s] most people said, ‘We don’t go to tertiary education in our family – maybe we go to polytechnic maybe we work.’ Then because of the expansion of tertiary education suddenly it is within reach of a huge number of people,” he said. “Then it becomes: ‘I can get to tertiary education, now how do I get [there]?”
But university slots, particularly publicly funded ones, are still limited – pushing thousands of pupils to tutors like Lam for advice on how to get a leg up on the DSE and other exams.
“In Hong Kong, exam results are everything. You have to get your exam results in order to advance, to get into good universities … The tutoring centres make up for [shortfalls] by teaching you how to actually pass exams. To many students the tutors are their saviours and naturally as saviours they are highly regarded,” says Joseph Lam Chok, an Oxford-trained barrister turned English tutor at Beacon.
The high-regard comes at a price, however, for the top tutors as well as pupils.
Lam teaches 12 classes a week – down from the 20 he taught when he first started out – and says many of his colleagues go to bed atthree or four in the morning. In fact, he says he started at Beaconwhen another tutor died of overwork, refusing to rest despite a fever.
“We as tutors are [working] 24 hours. We are making handouts, we are just concentrating on how to present [to pupils],” he said. — dpa