On the way to his office, school principal Eric Yuon Fuk-lung ran into a student, and what began as a simple greeting gave way to a brief discussion of the boy’s recent work.
After the friendly exchange, the former university sociology professor explained that he often spoke with pupils – and not necessarily because they had made any mistakes.
He gestured towards a meeting area in a corner of his office. “Students can sit on the sofa, sip their tea and chat with me,” he said.
“Students here are always treated with respect.”
Yuon, well-known for leading Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial College on Lantau Island out of a crisis, believes students are the most important thing at a school, while others such as its principal should come second.
He has focused on helping young people transform their lives, and these efforts have became the forte of the secondary school, which once faced closure before he arrived in 2009.
Every student is talented. It’s just that they are not trusted by many adults
Eric Yuon Fuk-lung, Buddhist Fat Ho Memorial College
The educator is one of the nominees for the Post’s Spirit of Hong Kong Awards this year. His name has been put forward by community partner Hong Kong Disneyland Resort in the Compassion Ambassador category, which honours people who serve and help others passionately.
Under Yuon’s leadership, Fat Ho departs from the widespread fixation in Hong Kong on grades over other education goals.
“In my view, every student is talented,” the principal said. “It’s just that they are not trusted by many adults.”
He added the school would give every student an opportunity, regardless of their personal or family background.
The secondary school is located in the former fishing village of Tai O. It now has about 300 students, including referrals from social workers and correctional services officers.
Yuon said the school rigorously screened its applicants, with their attitude being the most important personal attribute.
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“My students must observe proprieties and not swear,” the principal added. “Self-discipline is very important.”
The veteran teacher also noted his firm belief in filial piety and Confucian values.
“Students should always be grateful, especially to their mothers for giving them life. They should be loyal to their country.
“I do not shy from talking about my patriotic feelings,” he added, noting the controversy in the city over strengthening national education for young people.
But he believed a curriculum should be designed strictly based on pedagogical principles.
“What’s the point of asking a Filipino student to study Chinese history?” he asked. The school enrols many children who are not ethnically Chinese.
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The father of two described the students at Fat Ho as his “sons and daughters”.
While not everyone could excel academically, Yuon said, he hoped they could all give back to the community.
“We are delighted that we have won support from many in the government and from the community.”