The quality and funding of local education has been a hot topic in Hong Kong over the past few years. While teaching professionals in the public sector encounter enormous challenges and even have to face up to the possibility of unemployment, those in the private sector are generally doing well and find themselves in high demand.
Ng Teng Keat, who once taught at international schools and is now founder, principal and director of NTK Learning Center & NTK English School, has seen things from both perspectives. As a result, he has taken a realistic and practical approach to the development of his private education centre. "The most important thing is what you can offer your students," he says.
As a firm believer in quality education, Mr Ng set up NTK in 1996. The main purpose was to ensure students could improve their academic performance but also their personal characteristics and attitude to life. The students and their results are testimony that this laudable philosophy has worked.
Holding a BSc in biochemistry with education, Mr Ng has more than 18 years of classroom experience. "I don't have a secret for success," he stresses. What makes him different, though, is his background. Born in Malaysia and brought up in a multicultural environment, he speaks several languages and dialects. "I've met people from many cultures," he says. "If you speak their languages, you can create instant rapport and build a trusting relationship more easily."
Your personal attributes and qualities as a teacher must be outstanding
Mr Ng's commitment to the teaching profession began in 1986 when he worked for the first of several international schools in different parts of Asia. He settled in Hong Kong in 1990 and built up a strong network of contacts. "A good teacher must have genuine love for children and teaching," he says. "They know if you're good or not and whether you care. Nowadays, a lot of parents recommend me to their friends because their children love me." In his opinion, the most important thing for a teacher is being able to pass on knowledge and motivate students. "If you can't do that, the students will never learn," he asserts.
Mr Ng, who teaches physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and English, finally decided to set up NTK in 1996. It began as a 600 square foot office with only 60 students. After only six months, things had taken off. "I was very lucky," he says. "I hired two teachers to handle mathematics. They are both still with us today and there are now 15 teachers in the maths department." As Mr Ng's reputation grew, more space was needed and NTK moved to a 2,000 square foot centre in 1998. "Our school expanded so fast that we were only there for one year before having to move again to our current 10,000 square foot centre that is capable of housing 2,000 students," he recalls.
It happens that many NTK students are the children of celebrities or more affluent parents. Despite this, Mr Ng has had to deal with a number of difficulties, especially in recruiting teachers. "Building a team of professional teachers took a long time," he says. "You have to know how to screen teachers and it makes no difference if they graduated from one of the Ivy League or other leading universities. Anyone who wants to join us has to undergo the half-day NTK screening test. They must demonstrate their ability and show they have the right attitude, which cannot be judged just by looking at their resumes. We also regard versatility and flexibility as the sign of a good teacher."
The first words of advice that Mr Ng gives to prospective teachers is that their heart should be in the profession. Secondly, they should know how to apply themselves. "When you are starting out, use your time to learn and gain experience," he says. "It is also important to rely on hard work rather than luck."
Managing the centre and acting as an education consultant takes up much of Mr Ng's time, but he still manages to teach a few hours a day. "I'm now shifting from teaching to management and have realised that good management requires a wide range of practical knowledge which cannot just be learnt from books. I am enjoying it very much."
Mr Ng's next move will be the opening of a bookshop and he also has plans to develop publications about education later this year. "Hong Kong people are very smart and they realise the importance of lifetime learning," he says. "I want to give them more opportunities to keep learning at their own pace."
With growing demand for private lessons in mainland China, Mr Ng has been asked to set up centres and has made several exploratory visits. "When the time is right, I'll go ahead, but I believe in quality and will not rush anything," he says.
Many opportunities exist for people with an overseas education who can teach English. However, Mr Ng sounds a note of caution. "You must be exceptionally good in the first place," he says. "If you are mediocre, don't even think about it. Your personal attributes and qualities as a teacher must be outstanding."