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Dr. Ella P.O. Chan on Continuing Education

Dr. Ella P.O. Chan
Director, School of Continuing and Professional Studies
(Photo by Keith Hiro)

Over these years, you have earned you master’s and doctoral degrees while working in the fields of education, counselling and administration. What tricks do you have in juggling work, family and study?

That’s exactly the theme of my thesis. Well, I’m a highly focused person which is good for time management. I seldom need to bring my work home. I have learnt how to manage my emotions effectively. I won’t force myself to take on anything beyond my capacity. Sometimes I would take a short break. A 10-minute stroll on the beautiful campus will empower me to face the challenge back in the office. My religion also teaches me how to commit myself unto God, to accept my inadequacy and humbly seek help from colleagues and family. We have regular family meetings at home for everyone to review what they have been doing and to talk about their plans. I gain tremendous support and strength from that. In a recent sharing session during Christmas, I told my family I had to learn everything anew in the new environment, but I would take it positively and try my best.

How do you cope with a new environment?

I believe a humble and receptive mind will bring you success in any education-related role. From teaching, counselling to education administration, I don’t have anything to be boastful of. As a teacher, I can perhaps claim half of the credit for good teaching and learning. As a counsellor, I walk hand in hand with my clients, and can only make change through therapy when there is a strong tie of mutual trust between us. As an administrator, one has to rely on team effort. I believe that sincerity and frequent communication are the cornerstones of team building. My last job was about foundation building, which included dealing with curriculum and campus development. I had to attend to every minor detail. Here at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, I need to learn how to inherit and build on the legacy of my predecessors. You may say my experiences are related, but after all, the corporate organization and culture are different between my current and previous jobs. I will build up my personal network gradually, hoping that through adaptation and adjustment, my colleagues and I will progress at the same pace. As the Gestalt therapy theory goes: like it or not, everything is changing. There is nothing in this world that remains unchanged. We need to learn how to change for the better in the context of stability. When I offer career counselling, I like to compare life to a river. The river keeps flowing, and upon each twist and turn it will encounter new experiences and landscapes. Sometimes it may be obstructed or may slow down, but it is still moving forward. How amazing and encouraging is that!

What plans do you have for the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCS)?

My first year here will be for consolidation. I will start with a thorough understanding of where the school stands. The ultimate goal is to brand SCS as the provider of quality sustainable lifelong education. Towards this end, the school must install a robust quality assurance mechanism and cultivate better awareness of accountability and responsibility before indentifying development strategies or any ‘big plans’. I will organize retreats for academic, administrative and minor staff in turn to exchange views with them, listen to them and build team spirit.

What are the flagship programmes of SCS?

We are renowned for our art and cultural programmes. Others such as disciplinary forces and security management, medicine and health care, and nutrition are also unique. Both our Japanese and Korean courses are outstanding. Our Korean language courses, up to the high diploma level, are the only ones in Hong Kong endorsed officially by the Korean King Sejong Institute. We may offer a new course in business Korean for corporate training. To promptly answer the needs of society, I also plan to co-organize guidance and special education programmes with professional bodies.

How would a self-financed continuing education arm of a university strike a balance between market demand and its ideals for education?

The school needs to be supported by stable resources. Award-bearing programmes account for 70 to 80 per cent of our income, and they serve to offset the costs of low-income programmes of a community service nature. I hope that we can continue working with NGOs in providing community education, e.g. certificate courses for seniors, setting the fees at an affordable level for retirees. We will also give new courses on humanities and liberal studies a try though they may not be able to make ends meet for the time being. We start each season with a new series of free public lectures on the arts and humanities, aiming at opening up more spiritual space for members of our community.

How is the school’s development in Shenzhen?

There is a huge demand for continuing education in a place like Shenzhen where people of different talents come and go. Hong Kong and Shenzhen differ in their expectations of education. There are various private continuing education organizations charging very low fees. People there look for fast track qualification upgrade. Unfortunately, we are more expensive and can only offer qualifications accredited in Hong Kong. So we need to explore how to promote our award-bearing programmes. The Continuing and Professional Education Centre at the Shenzhen Research Institute opened in October 2012. It started to give free talks in September on leadership, globalization and modernization in China, career planning for adolescents, and international protocol and etiquette for corporate staff, etc. We aim at enhancing the locals’ understanding of continuing education through these talks within two years. In the long run, we will leverage on two Hong Kong factors which are still attractive on the mainland—quality of teachers and ideology of education. In our further planning, SCS also hopes to complement the development of the University’s Shenzhen Campus.

What advice would you give to the young generation on dealing with pressure from work and study?

Let us use the river analogy again. Boulders and fallen leaves on our career path slow us down, or block us from moving forward. But look behind you and you will be amazed at how many hurdles you have overcome. There are joys and sorrows on the course of studies. Commit yourself to it with hope and faith, you will make it. Enjoy and treasure the new visions and skills that you gain in the process. When you feel exhausted, don’t forget to turn to a reliable listener for help.

What other roles can continuing education play, other than aiding career development?

Lifelong education is closely tied to career development. People in Hong Kong are practical. Assessment and qualifications are their prime concerns, but that is not what continuing education is all about. It can make you see more, live better. Look at the seniors who enrolled on ecology tourism. They set out to watch the birds, dragonflies and butterflies. Do they need a certificate to look for jobs? No. But their exposure is widened, their networks expanded and lives enriched. They don’t have to be emotionally over-dependent on their next generation and that makes them and their families happier. I sincerely hope that course participants will enjoy the process of learning more, and embark on a journey of self-actualization.

Are you pursuing any studies recently?

I studied Japanese several years ago. I joined the International Bible Study Fellowship a couple of years ago. There are two meetings each week that include group sharing and classes. I need to spend half an hour daily on homework, and study in depth one book from the Bible every half a year. This gives me time and space for reflection, and enables me to learn patience and humility, which are beneficial to personal and career growth.

What do you like to do after work?

I have a lot of interests, and am still identifying and developing new ones. I like to read fiction, books on makeup, fashion, food therapy—a bit of everything. I just bought a book on scarf tying. And it works beautifully. Assorted knowledge sometimes gives me inspiration for new courses.