Experiencing The Wah Yan International Conference 2004

 

            The 9th Wah Yan International Conference (IC) took place in Hong Kong during November 11-15, 2004, in celebration of the 85th and 80th anniversaries of WYHK and WYK. The first events were Speech Days of the two Wah Yans and a golf tournament, followed by the main conference held first in WYK on November 13 and then in WYHK the following day.

 

The main conference opened with welcoming speeches and the presentation of delegates representing 17 chapters: Calgary, Edmonton, Ontario, Vancouver, U.S. Eastern, Houston, Michigan, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, U.K., Bangkok, Melbourne, Singapore, Sydney and Hong Kong (WYHKPSA and WYKPSA). This was followed by the 10 ‘Timeless Bonding’ sessions during which keynote speakers including prominent educationists, leaders in society, former teachers and old boys shared their insights on various topics (see programme) related to the bonding between Wah Yan alumni and their alma mater. The main conference concluded with the four panel discussions and the following decisions:

·  The base of the International Networking Committee will be permanently located in Hong Kong, the root of both WYHK and WYK.

·  The next IC in 2006 will be hosted by the Vancouver chapter.

 

A joint WYHK-WYK Thanksgiving Mass was held on November 15 on the WYK soccer pitch, attended by all current students, teachers and many alumni. Bishop John Tong Hon was the chief celebrant, joined by many Jesuit Fathers and old boy priests. The IC reached its climax that evening when over 1700 old boys, Fathers and Teachers attended the Reunion Dinner at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

 

            What you are reading are not the minutes of IC2004. This article is a portrait of the experience of the IC in the context of core Wah Yan values according to the framework of the Jesuit Pedagogical Paradigm. The latter consists of the elements of context, experience, reflection, action and evaluation (the last one being inapplicable here).

 

 

Wah Yan in the Context of Educational Reforms

 

CONTEXT: To those outside the field of education, education in Hong Kong seems to be changing constantly. The first keynote speaker, Dr. Rosanna Wong Yick-ming, Chairman of the Education Commission, acknowledged this and outlined some of the major contemporary challenges in society that had prompted the need for changes in education, such as a knowledge-based economy, the need of having young people with greater problem-solving abilities, greater creativity, more sophisticated skills to handle relationships, better reflection skills, and commitment to their country, China. Dr. Pang King Chee, former Vice-President of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, somehow echoed Dr. Wong’s tone on a more microscopic level when he explained the need of students to advance their mode of learning from simple factual recall of knowledge to more abstract levels such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation, and the addition of affective and spiritual domains to the traditional five Confucian domains of education (moral, intellectual, physical, social and aesthetic).

 

However, according to Dr. Wong, there are four elements in education that still remain unchanged today:

1.      the person(student)-centred nature of education

2.      the importance of commitment from teachers

3.      love and care

4.      education is a long-term investment

 

 

EXPERIENCE: The above four and other everlasting elements of a good education were later recalled when Mr. Andrew So Kwok Wing, former Legco member and Ombudsman, shared his personal experience of characteristics of Jesuit education in Wah Yan:

·  Care for the poor and understand the situation they are facing: Fr. Toner urged students to donate money to buy food and daily necessities for poor people in the streets … “A Father asked me to visit prisoners. After interviewing me, he recruited me and I began my many years of prison visits. Later I took part in the foundation of the Society of Rehabilitation and Crime Prevention.” Mr. So also remembered the Poor Boys’ Club founded by Fr. Howartson.

·   Inculcating positive attitudes in sports: “We were playing soccer against La Salle and were behind them by 0:3. Fr. R. McCarthy encouraged us by saying ‘The game is not over’. Eventually, after extra time, we defeated our opponents by 7:3.”

 

On November 6, Ming Pao put forward a paradox: Why has WYHK produced so many government officials (examples given were Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Michael Suen Ming-yeung and Justice Patrick Chan Siu-hoi) and WYK so many opposition leaders (Martin Lee Chu-ming, James To Kun-sun and Alan Leong Ka-kit)? Fathers, alumni and former Teachers who spoke at the ‘Wah Yan O Wah Yan’ session did not come to a definite conclusion, but many recalled that accepting people of different viewpoints was an impressive feature in their experience of Wah Yan’s education. When Sir Gordon Wu was asked the following day why some Wahyanites were now seen to be against each other each other in political and business circles, he explained that this was not surprising because Wah Yan is not a triad society [with only one kind of voice]! In his lengthy articles written to commemorate the Wah Yan anniversaries, published in two local newspapers just before the IC, Professor Kong Siu Lun, WYK alumnus and formerly of CUHK and Lingnan College, recalled the Jesuit attitude of openness he experienced in Wah Yan:

 

 In the 1950s, the anti-Communist McCarthyism filled the world, including Hong Kong. On the other hand, Hong Kong’s youth were eager to serve the New China. Classmate M formed ‘learning societies’ with students from several English schools, learning how to pursue studies in the Mainland and participate in the construction of the New China. The Fathers knew about this and stood against the leftist thoughts. However, not only did they not discriminate against those who held views opposite to their own, they even gave the highest honour to these people. Later when I recollected this incident, I came to understand that accepting opposing views is more than endurance. It represents a level of positive humility that transcends the notion of living with opposing viewpoints. …  On this level, people holding polarised views can appreciate and learn humbly from one another, because such nobility is a sign of human civilization. (Ming Pao, November 8, 2004)

 

            Prof. Kong believed that this spirit of accepting diversified opinions is being lost in Hong Kong’s educational scene today, as the government is “only seeking conformity in administration”, neglecting the glamorous achievements of a diversified system of schools. According to him, schools with a fine tradition like Wah Yan now face a choice of life or death in the light of this attitude from the government. (Ming Pao, November 8, 2004)

 

            Accompanying the formation of the above Jesuit values of caring for the poor, fighting until the end and ideological openness among Wahyanites during the past decades was a decline of the number of Jesuits in both Wah Yans. Fr. A. Deignan SJ, Provincial Delegate of The Society of Jesus in Hong Kong, presented this trend in the Hong Kong context:

 

 

Religious Teachers[1] in HK Catholic schools

Catholic lay Teachers in HK Catholic schools

Jesuits residing in WYHK

Jesuits residing in WYK

1976

461

 

n.a.

19

16

1983

373

 

3,929

 

15

17

1993

211

 

3,213

 

10

11

2003

149

 

3,166

 

6[2]

42

 

 

REFLECTION & ACTION: How can the Jesuit values in Wah Yan be maintained, with a dwindling number of Jesuits, in the midst of educational reforms and the scenario that Prof. Kong has mentioned? The answer that Fr. Deignan put forward was to train good heads for our schools, and to provide better formation for Catholic Teachers in theology, biblical studies, Christian moral values and psychology, so that the core Jesuit values can be maintained. Incidentally, Dr. Pang also emphasized the importance of empowering teachers through a system of exposure overseas where there is first-hand experience of teachers that have gone through similar reforms. How can Wah Yan old boys, with their international network and financial resources, help their alma mater if the above strategies are to be implemented?

 

One possible source of support may be the Wah Yan One Family Fund. When Fund Chairman Stephen T. H. Ng, a WYK old boy, invited Mrs. Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former Chief Secretary of Administration, to be an adviser of the Fund after she had given her keynote speech, Mrs. Chan kindly agreed. The Sacred Heart Canossian College old girl also gave us some suggestions of more direct forms of support for our alma mater from her personal experience. Alumni can ‘counsel’ current students individually or in groups (Mrs. Chan spends half-day each week doing this) to listen to their aspirations and problems, and provide advice based on a set of values or principles that would guide them to the right path in life. Alternatively, alumni can discuss social norms and values with students through book review activities and talks.

 

            The panel discussion of WYHKPSA’s ‘Timeless Bonding Scheme’ confirmed two future directions: continuation of the Interest Groups and consolidation and expansion of Professional Groups (only a Medical Doctors Group exists at the moment). The former groups provide a platform to connect old boys with common interests (e.g., sports, music and even war game), while the Medical Fraternity is still in the process of consolidating its membership database. Both groups have a view to help current students of Wah Yan. The Interest Groups enable the expertise and resources of club members to be utilized to serve students in the Mother School if and when required, and the Professional Groups can provide professional career mentorship. In the Youth Forum, one of the panels that met on November 14, current students of both Wah Yans expressed their desire to receive more support from old boys. They suggested expanding the existing mentorship scheme (WYK old boys mentoring WYK students) to a joint-mentorship scheme in which the resources of both WYK and WYHK old boys would be integrated to provide mentorship to students of both Colleges. Current students would also like to have old boys assisting their teacher advisers in extra-curricular activities, an initiative that matches the long-term goal of the Interest Groups. Participants of the Youth Forum did not want to limit current students to roles of accepting WYPSA’s assignments in working for WYPSA activities: they wanted to organize activities for past students. This is another platform for the fraternal exchanges on Wah Yan values between alumni and students.

 

Of course, the support from old boys cannot substitute the roles of Fathers and Teachers in the education of current Wahyanites. After alumni have done what their human hands can achieve, the rest of the problem of probably not having enough Jesuits to perpetuate Jesuit values in the future Wah Yan can be left to God. Fr. Deignan had the future needs of Wah Yan in mind when he appealed to current students to consider their professional and religious vocations at the end of the Thanksgiving Mass, “How many of you would think of teaching as a career? … How many of you would think of joining the Jesuits?”

 

 

 

Wah Yan at the Service of Hong Kong and China

 

CONTEXT: Wah Yan was founded by Mr. Peter Tsui Yau Sau for Chinese youth who then had little chance to receive formal education. The second principal Mr. Lim Hoy Lan made Mandarin, the national language of China, compulsory for all students at the height of British colonialism. When the Jesuits took over Wah Yan, Chinese remained a core subject for all students, a unique feature among Catholic Grant Schools in those days. Throughout the decades, Jesuit Fathers maintained their respect for the Chinese culture and regarded the education of  Wah Yan students an effort to form leaders to serve the Chinese people. Amidst the uncertainty of the prospective return of Hong Kong to China in the early 1990s, the Jesuit Fathers pledged that they would stay after 1997 and continue their education ministries in both Wah Yans. On a macroscopic level, the history of Wah Yan was oriented towards the needs of China. It was therefore not surprising when a number of keynote speakers related Wah Yan values to the context of China.

 

 

EXPERIENCE & REFLECTION: Addressing the topic ‘Wah Yan Values, Hong Kong and Contemporary China’, Mr. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, Chief Secretary of Administration, began by relating his Wah Yan-inspired spirit of greater service to the life of service lived by St. Ignatius Loyola. He recalled his recent visit to the graves of Jesuit missionaries in the Communist Party School in Beijing, and contrasted the spirit of sacrifice lived by St. Francis Xavier, who died in Shangchuan Island, Guangdong, the accommodating strategy and humanitarian service of Frs. Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall, against what he called the ‘background noise’ in China today, constituted by the consumerism, competition, individualism and fast pace of life in the contemporary Chinese society. Mr. Tsang challenged old boys to reflect whether we are contributing towards Hong Kong and China through our service in society: “Each person is unique in God’s eyes, blessed with specific gifts. Where is the greatest need for our talents?”

 

Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, Honorary Chairman of the IC, speaking from his own experience, encouraged younger Wahyanites to see service to society as a way to bring glory to our alma mater, and to view such contribution with a long-term vision: “Each generation enjoys the social contribution from an earlier generation, and should give its best to the next. We should show gratitude to those who have contributed towards our own education by helping the next generation.”

 

Legco member Mr. Alan Leong Ka-kit saw service as “the best way to put the Wah Yan Spirit into concrete action. When you contribute to make the lives of your neighbours happier, richer, the rewards you receive will be greater than what you have given.” It was Mr. Leong’s Wah Yan Spirit that prompted him to join the Bar Council in his third year as barrister, thus leaving a world that consisted only of the court, the office and his home, and moving to an arena that enabled him to serve his profession and eventually the Hong Kong society for 11 years. He put Wah Yan’s education into the context of contemporary China by reminding IC participants that China is now undergoing a historic revolution, a bloodless revolution, evolving from a feudal and closed society to a strong power in the international stage, with progress in the rule of law and human rights, and that Wahyanites can contribute amidst this revolution. “Wah Yan does not only provide students with a means to earn a living. Rather, she trains leaders for Hong Kong and China. Don’t think that because you are young, you won’t be called to serve our society. Your calling may arrive very soon. While still in school, students should ask how they can equip themselves to serve society in future.”

 

 

ACTION

A generation from now, the Jesuits in charge of Wah Yan will likely to be all Chinese. More Wah Yan graduates will be working in increasingly diverse locations and professions in the mainland of China, with some likely to assume corporate or even political leadership at national levels, and even more will contribute to the development of our nation indirectly through their service in Hong Kong. Secondary schools in Hong Kong, including Wah Yan, will be admitting mainland students (DSS schools will do so in 2005). What actions are to be taken in the context of these probable changes? How can the old boys’ experience and spirit of service within professions be more effectively shared through professional Wahyanite groups? Can informal alumni communities be established in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities to provide old boys working in the mainland with a wider platform of fraternal sharing and mutual encouragement? How can the structure of the PSAs and the informal curriculum of the Schools be adapted to enable old boys’ experience of service to Hong Kong and China to be more effectively and regularly shared among current students so as to inspire the latter to carry on the torch of service? How can future ‘mainland students’ in Wah Yan be educated with traditional Jesuit values, in contrast to the consumerist and individualistic value system (that Mr. Donald Tsang has mentioned) under which they have been brought up, so that upon their return to their roots and connections in the mainland many years later, they can serve the country with the Wah Yan Spirit?

 

 

IC2004 is over, but the soul-searching continues.

 

 

John K. Tan (WYHK Class ’81)

Recording Secretary, IC2004



[1] Including priests, religious brothers and sisters.

[2] None of whom were teaching full-time.