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Speech at the Opening of the Foundation Course for Newly Appointed Principals of 2004-05 at Kowloon Tong Government Primary School

Speech by Mrs Fanny Law, GBS, JP

at the Opening of the Foundation Course

for Newly Appointed Principals of 2004-05

at Kowloon Tong Government Primary School

                    on Thursday, 29 July 2004              



  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,


First of all, let me congratulate the newly appointed principals on your promotion. You have taken on an honorable job that holds promises of a better future. 


Teaching is a profession of hope, and the hope for better schools lies in an enlightened school leadership. I believe your desire to become a principal is driven by the aspiration to nurture thoughtful, creative and concerned citizens for a better world. You are now in a position to make a real difference. 


Much has been written about leadership, as well as school leadership.  The fact of the matter is: leadership cannot be taught, it has to be learned through practice. The systems of management, organisation, motivation and control that are good in one setting may not work well in another. You will hear a lot about educational leadership in the next two days, covering school development, change management, instructional leadership and learning community.


This morning, I would like to share with you some perspectives on the moral purpose of education. Education is an important channel for social mobility, and schools are critical agents of social cohesion.   Schools function as extensions of families. Schools also have a public obligation to cultivate civic responsibility. Everything that happens in the school has moral overtones that impact on students.


Michael Fullan defined the moral purpose of education as making a difference in the lives of students. It is a critical motivator for sustaining complex reforms. Moral leadership therefore lies at the heart of school improvement. As a moral leader, the principal has to lead from the heart, inspire with vision and values, act as a role model and maintain a community of relationships that ensure individual rights within the context of the common good.


Thomas Sergiovanni, the author of “Moral Leadership” describes a virtuous school as a learning community that is committed to the spirit of curiosity, inquiry and reflection; that believes every student can learn and does everything to see that every student does learn; and in the virtuous school, parents, teachers, students, community and school are partners bound by a common cause and communal responsibility, i.e. to put the interests of students before any individual interests.


Principals today are faced with moral dilemmas. They often have to grapple with questions such as these -


l            In the wake of a declining student population and the risk of school closure due to under-enrollment, should the school step up marketing and publicity activities, at the expense of time spent on students or continue to focus unswervingly on the educational goal of improving student learning?


l            In view of broadened student diversity at Secondary One level, should the school give up the slower learners and focus on the bright students who can get more ‘A’s in the HKCEE or should the school work much harder to bridge the achievement gap?


l            In view of increasing public demands on the transparency of school operations, should the school manipulate the data in order to look good on the book or be honest in the school’s self-evaluation and work hard to improve?


l            Knowing that some students are clearly not suited to the academic programme, should the school ignore the needs of these students or offer alternative vocation oriented programmes but risk being labelled as a weak school?


l            To help students secure a secondary school place through discretionary allocation, should the school lower the standards of P5 & 6 tests so that they get higher scores and a more impressive report card or uphold the standards?


l            Should the school tolerate teachers who are unable and reluctant to change with the time and make other teachers work harder or tackle the problem head-on by communicating clearly the school’s expectations to the teachers concerned and supporting them in their personal development?


l            Knowing the language deficiency of students, should the school still use English as the medium of instruction to attract enrolment or use the mother tongue but beef up the teaching of English?


These dilemmas occur everyday. It takes courage and moral commitment on the part of the principal to stay on course, always putting the students’ interest above others. This is what I ask of you and I believe this is also what the community expects of you.


This morning, you may have wondered why I have chosen to speak to you in English in the absence of any expatriate in the audience.  There is one simple message: while we lament the declining English standards among students, we have to ask ourselves: have we guided our students to realise the importance of English in Hong Kong , and have we given them enough opportunities to practise the use of English?


We all know very well students learn best using the mother tongue because of the absence of language barrier. There is clear research evidence to support this.  We also know that to master a language well, we have to practise the four skills. It is not enough for students to listen to the teachers speak English for eight lessons a day and expect them to be proficient in the use of English. 


I urge you, as principals, to create a trilingual language environment in your school, and model the use of both English and Putonghua in morning assemblies, in the staff room, and in the playground.  Months ago, I visited a primary school and was deeply impressed to find that young children could speak English, Putonghua and Cantonese, and switch seamlessly from one to another in response to the language that I used. The secret formula is simple. All English teachers in that school use English throughout the day, and all Chinese teachers use Putonghua. The principal and other teachers are trilingual. In so doing, students see the relevance of language in everyday use, and they learn fast. 


Hong Kong runs the risk of losing its international character, if English is not used in the community which is dominated by Chinese.  It is incumbent upon us, as educators, to take the lead and set an example. Principals have to be biliterate and trilingual and should model the use of languages in school.


In the globalised world troubled by a dazzling pace of change and confused values, schools are an important institution for providing a sense of direction and community. At the helm are the principals who will provide leadership that serves the moral purposes of education, leadership that is underpinned by the principles of justice and beneficence, leadership that is tough enough to demand a great deal from everyone – students, parents and teachers - and leadership that is tender enough to encourage the hearts – these are the leadership that we need for education in Hong Kong today.


I may be asking too much but you may rest assured that you are not alone. My colleagues and I are always ready to render support and provide a helping hand, whenever needed. I wish you success as you embark on a new journey in your career.


Last revision date: 29 July 2004
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