Nov 30, 2015
Great results at school open doors, but no one teaches you how to seize opportunities, academic high achievers say.
When public exam results are released each year, attention naturally focuses on top scorers. A brave new world awaits these straight-A students: scholarships, offers from top universities and stellar careers in business, research or academia. Or so the thinking goes.
Hong Kong’s obsession with exam results accounts in part for the fuss over Miss Hong Kong 2015, Louisa Mak Ming-sze, another top student who went on to earn a law degree at Cambridge University.
However, life doesn’t always unfold so neatly. For example, studious, rule-following youngsters don’t necessarily come out ahead in the long run, according to a report published last month in the journal, that studied 745 children in Luxembourg over 40 years.
So how have Hong Kong students who achieved 10 As in the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (replaced in 2012 by the Diploma of Secondary Education) fared as adults? We meet four top performers who finished Form Five about a decade ago.
With his stellar results in 2006, Arnold Chan Kwan-yeung skipped Form Seven and went straight into a business studies course at Chinese University that led to a job in asset management at Goldman Sachs. Joining the investment bank proved to be something of a culture shock.
“Goldman Sachs is an international bank. I was a student with little exposure to overseas culture. Although I joined university exchange programmes in Denmark and the US, I only hung out with Hongkongers. I was introverted when I was younger and didn’t know how to get along with foreigners. So there was a big learning curve and a lot of stress when I first joined the bank,” Chan says.
“People at the bank knew I was a straight-A student and wondered whether I was a typical swot who only knew how to excel in exams.”
But the training and exposure he received at Goldman Sachs turned him into a much more confident and sociable person, Chan says.
“My experience in dealing with clients also boosted my presentation skills.”
By the time he left to pursue an MBA at Harvard in 2013, Chan’s annual salary came to more than HK$1 million a year.
But he has struck out in a different direction following a brief summer stint in Beijing to work for Teach for China, a charity that enlists top graduates as teachers in underprivileged schools. Modelled on an American NGO, it proved so inspiring Chan took last year off from his studies to set up a similar organisation in Hong Kong, Teach4HK.
“My 10 As were useful then as I could get more media to interview me for Teach4HK. But beyond that, it did not give me any other advantage over others. I don’t even put it on my CV as people don’t really care about such things once you start working.”
All the same, Chan believes education helps boost social mobility for the working class.
“Many students from grass roots families are failures in the exam system. There are about 50 schools which have never had one student advance to university. The students don’t have the resources available to more affluent children to nurture their talents,” he says.
However, Teach4HK has recruited six graduates to work in schools serving poor communities, paying them HK$10,000 each month as a subsidy. “They are passionate graduates with leadership qualities who have a mission to help the underprivileged students.”
Now back at Harvard, Chan says he shuttles back to Hong Kong to work on the charity.
“I will join Teach4HK full time after completing the MBA. I won’t get any pay but I want to make a contribution in education.”