Reviewing his almost ten years as an art and design teacher in a secondary school, Steven Lau, art panel head of Ho Dao College (sponsored by Sik Sik Yuen) says it has been his mission to revamp art education, making it more lively and enjoyable. Mr Lau says teachers should make their classes more interesting and practical, adding, "I'll be delighted, one day, if my students still remember their art lessons and find what they learnt in school useful, even after they graduate."
According to Mr Lau, it is essential to arouse students' interest, so that they can develop their ideas and full potential. In particular, he thinks that technology could help get things done more quickly and easily - and allow students to achieve better results and greater satisfaction. "For example, in an exercise to design and create a company logo, using a computer could help students draw fine lines and sharp angles. It sounds simple and straightforward, but could already be a challenge for some and may prevent them from implementing their ideas and cause frustration," he says.
Before joining Ho Dao College in 1994, Mr Lau worked as a designer. After changing jobs several times in one year, he left the world of commerce as he believed it did not give him an opportunity to develop or utilise his creativity and design knowledge. Instead, thanks to business constraints such as customer requirements, it required him to compromise.
By contrast, teaching gives Mr Lau more freedom and brings greater satisfaction. Committed to deploying information technology (IT) in the world of education, he is in charge of a Quality Education Fund-supported project to establish IT in the art room and fully apply technology to art and design classes. He also works as a part-time computer graphic tutor at Hong Kong Schools Zone, teaching primary and secondary school teachers the basics of using computer software in education.
"We should always have a dream in mind"
A means, not a goal
While IT can simplify the art and design procedure, Mr Lau emphasises that training in basic skills such as drawing and watercolouring should never be overlooked. In his opinion, IT should not override the original subject matter. For example, while teaching students how to use computer software to implement their creative ideas is a prerequisite, art and design concepts and skills should remain the focus. He adds, "We are not computer teachers. It's not our goal to teach students the software, [rather] the utilisation of the application to facilitate design and artwork."
Although this new art education method differs from the historical and academic traditional approach to teaching fine arts, both methodologies share a common philosophy. "As artists, we are vigorous in the pursuit of beauty and the perfection of our own works," he says.
A template for success
The requirements for art and design teachers have become more demanding, according to Mr Lau. "While you are supposed to possess traditional skills such as drawing, watercolouring and so forth, you're also expected to know about emerging techniques, for example for multimedia design." Although teachers do not need any professional computer design qualifications, it is still essential to master the required skills for using IT in art education, as these are changing very fast.
In order to be a good art and design teacher, especially with the emergence of IT, one should also be dynamic, innovative and open to change. "We should always have a dream in mind. Once it is realised, we need to search for another. That's the way to continuously enhance our education."
"It is definitely hard work," adds Mr Lau. "But [it's] rewarding, when you realise the change in the students as well as the school, in [terms of] their attitude to and recognition of art education."
Unlike other careers, very few Hong Kong teachers look for teaching opportunities in China, according to Mr Lau. He says it is because of the low salary and status of teachers in the country, even though there are more private schools, especially in southern China, that may provide better offers.
Mr Lau is also doubtful about the competitiveness of Hong Kong teachers in China, where considerable local talent is available. "First, we need to have a good command of Putonghua. Secondly, there may be different requirements of the teachers - their skills, qualifications and teaching methods, - because of the different syllabuses and teaching goals." For example, Mr Lau says a more practical and design-oriented approach to teaching art may not be accepted on the Mainland, where schools tend to focus on traditional fine art.