In the last decade of the twentieth century, the education system under Hong Kong and Macau Conference (HKMC) experienced the fastest growth since its establishment in the 1950s. In 1994, the Macau government built Sam Yuk Middle School, with enough classroom space to accommodate 1,500 students. One year later, the Yuen Long Church, a local Adventist church in the northwestern part of Hong Kong, established a kindergarten class right next to the church with an enrollment capacity of 360.
At about the same time, four other secondary schools under Hong Kong and Macau Conference were operating in good condition, with a total enrollment of over 2,500. Most of these schools were in great shape, as they were financially supported by the government. Every year, gospel weeks, baptismal classes, Bible classes, and prayer bands were organized in these schools. This was the “best of times” for Adventist education in Hong Kong.
Today, the enrollment of Macau Sam Yuk has reached 1,000 and the school is still expanding. However, all the senior school administrators, with the exception of the principal, are non-Adventists. The enrollment of the kindergarten class in Yuen Long has reached its capacity, but the kindergarten principal and most of the teachers are non-Adventists. Moreover, two out of four secondary schools have been closed down, and the remaining two schools are struggling to survive. In just twenty years, the “best of times” within this education system had digressed.
One thing influencing the growth and decline of private education everywhere is policy change, and Adventist education is not immune to it. At the beginning of the 21st century, the conference caught up with the implementation of the school-based management policy by the Hong Kong government, which tightened the operation standards of all schools, resulting in two Adventist schools being forced to phase out. The birth rate decline in the 1990s in Hong Kong has also directly impacted student enrolment, which has meant more schools now experience greater difficulty in attracting students.
Another factor that has influenced the quality of Adventist education in Hong Kong and Macau, is the lack of depth with lesson planning. Since the Adventist school system in these territories was first established, the understanding of Adventist education by the local educators has stayed at a superficial level, with no serious attempts to deepen this understanding, or to put any learned concepts into actual practice. Classes in these Adventist schools were taught no different from the local schools, with only Bible classes added to the required curriculum.
From time to time, Adventist teachers were encouraged to integrate faith into the lessons but did not receive any real support from the school or the conference. Though these schools adopted the Adventist philosophy in their mission statements, this was hardly enough to influence their learning and teaching inside the classrooms. In the good times, teachers and administrators had been indulged with the blessings of enrollment and high salaries but had not thought of the need to prepare for the worst of times.
Nevertheless, there is still hope for the future. First launched in 2011, the Hong Kong Adventist Academy – which was phased out some years ago – in the site of Sam Yuk Middle School has been prospering for some time now, and is widely known throughout the local community for its uniquely engaging curriculum. Today its staff roster includes competent Adventist teachers from all over the world.
While this is exceptional news, continued effort is needed to rejuvenate the Adventist education system in the Hong Kong and Macau Conference. To do this, simply steering the ship away from the turbulent waves is not sufficient. Encouraging more Adventist young people to enter the teaching profession is also not sufficient. The church, including all its members and educators, must try to rediscover the meaning of Adventist education in this modern time, and why the general public should require it.