Whilst I have been to Edinburgh before, this is my first professional visit. Before coming, I was already aware of Scotland’s distinct educational traditions which clearly differentiates it from England and Wales. The self-evaluation framework that currently operates in Hong Kong schools was inspired by the first edition of (which was led by Archie) “How Good is Our School”. In contrast Hong Kong has yet to shake off the divisive and long-discredited legacy of the UK’s 11+ exam and the continued labeling of our primary 6 students into Bands 1, 2 and 3.
We were fortunate to arrive at the weekend and experience clear blue skies, crisp clean air and truly spectacular sunsets. Being able to stroll to Dr Judith McClure’s lovely home and to walk almost everywhere, with the help of an occasional bus ride, was a really pleasurable way to experience the classic beauty of Edinburgh. To be so warmly welcomed by Judith and Dr Roger Collins on Sunday evening in their graciously grand Georgian house was truly memorable.
Monday’s brisk walk and visit to James Gillespie’s High School set the tone for the rest of the week. Headmaster Donald MacDonald should be very proud of his student guides, who made us feel very at home as we toured the modern campus. One can really feel the vibrancy and momentum of the school community, and appreciate the student-focused architectural design of the building, making excellent use of natural light and providing a sense of openness and freedom. This is matched by students looking very smart in their sensible attire – I was impressed to know how the school was involved in the decision not to have a uniform.
After a lively and informal set of introductions we enjoyed a thoroughly interactive session that involved all Hong Kong and Scottish partner schools, including lively and articulate Scottish students. The discussion of similarities and differences between Hong Kong and Scotland was exciting and we discovered that our schools had so much in common, aspiring to the same positive universally human values, striving with the same passion for excellence and the very best learning experiences for our students.
On Tuesday we each visited our partner schools. My colleagues Wanita, Lanny and I had a marvellous day at George Watson’s College. Heather Wilson, Head of Senior School and my former colleague at West Island School, Hong Kong, together with her wonderful students and colleagues made us feel so welcome. We simply soaked up the tranquil splendour of the College campus and the vibrant and joyous learning atmosphere in classrooms. Other Hong Kong colleagues all had highly memorable days visiting their partner schools. The day’s excitement was crowned by a glamorous dinner hosted by Debbie Birrell, Senior Depute Rector of Edinburgh Academy in their beautiful, 180 year-old oval-shaped main hall. The ambiance and conversations we enjoyed as we sat in lovely round tables felt quite like a Chinese wedding banquet in Hong Kong!
On Wednesday morning, Archie took us over to the Kingdom of Fife by train, crossing the iconic Forth Bridge on a gloriously sunny day. We got off at Kirkcaldy and were welcomed by Dr James More, Head Teacher of Balwearie High School. Walking around the campus with two of his senior students was a real privilege. I was impressed to learn of the school’s inclusive policy of admission, its commitment to the community, and its strong partnership with its six primary schools. I was amazed to learn that all 19 state schools in Fife had decided to maintain their close working partnership with Fife Council’s education authority, probably unique in the UK. In the afternoon we attended an informative seminar delivered by Education Scotland inside the Scottish Government offices at Victoria Quay. I think we in Hong Kong have much to learn from Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence and its evaluation framework “How Good is Our School (version 4)”. The day ended with an equally memorable dinner at George Watson’s College, in the elegant yet intimate setting of a special suite dedicated to James Stewart Lockhart, educated at GWC and Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1895-1902. Thank you so much Heather for your most informative and touching tale about him.
On Thursday we became even more aware of Scotland’s link with China, when we spent the day at Edinburgh Zoo, home to the Royal Zoological Society Scotland and also home to Tian Tian and Yang Guang, the first Pandas to arrive in Europe. The presentations by RZSS experts on their education progamme with schools, their promotion of conservation and their research work in Scotland and in Sichuan was most informative and impressive, and in the afternoon we had a further interactive session with students from our partner schools discussing the importance of learning Chinese as well as English language and culture in the world of today and tomorrow. For me, capturing Yang Guang on video as he woke up and stretched his legs was just a magical moment.
Friday, our last day in a busy week, came very quickly. Our final plenary session was held at the Confucius Institute, located at Abden House, the University of Edinburgh. It was chaired by Archie and the guest of honour was The Rt Hon The Lord Wilson, former governor of Hong Kong. Pivotal figures of the Scotland China Education Network, together with our Scottish partner schools attended. We had a further opportunity to exchange ideas with our partner schools on how to build on the momentum generated by this inaugural study trip. We thanked Judith, Simon and Archie for their vision, leadership, enthusiastic support and untiring efforts to facilitate the exchanges between partner schools and to ensure that the week was highly successful.
On a personal note, I returned to Hong Kong buzzing with positive energy and taking back with me so much more in terms of ideas, and inspiration than I could possibly have imagined. I feel sure that every partner school, Scottish as well as Hong Kong, would have gained a great deal from this study visit and be inspired to strive forward to improve our own schools as a direct result of looking outwards, looking inwards and looking forward. I am very much looking forward to contributing to the next phase of development for HKSSIP.