Top of the Class: Yew Chung and Yew Wah Education Network Marks 90 Years of Educational Excellence
By Norris Tangen
The Yew Chung and Yew Wah Education Network (YCYW) has established an international reputation for academic excellence. With YCYW marking its 90-year anniversary this year, the AmCham China Quarterly sat with YCYW’s Co-Education Directors Tin Ip and Shannon Shang to discuss the school’s history, their educational philosophies, and online learning lessons.
Photo courtesy of YCYW
90 Years in Education
For almost a century, the Yew Chung and Yew Wah Education Network (YCYW) has been blazing trails in Asia’s international education sector. The first Yew Chung school was founded in 1932 in Hong Kong by Madam Tsang Chor-hang – only 16-years-old at the time. At the time of its establishment, Hong Kong was going through a politically turbulent and economically challenging time. Madam Tsang believed that only through education could the country be lifted out of poverty. Madam Tsang dedicated the rest of her life to the education of adolescents, and in the 1970s her daughter, Dr. Betty Chan Po-king, took over.
Under the leadership of Dr. Chan Po-king and her husband Professor Paul Yip, the organization has moved from strength to strength, offering a unique curriculum and teaching style that blends East and West. Today, the organization has 16 established schools spread across major cities in mainland China and Hong Kong, along with a school in the US and a learning center in the UK.
While the network has evolved over the 90 years since its inception, Education Director Tin Ip and Education Director / Education Director Coordinator Shannon Shang note that some areas remain constant. “Right from the beginning, we have prioritized students’ well-being and best interest as our very top priority,” they say. While their holistic educational philosophy and core values of diligence, frugality, humility, and faithfulness still stand, there have, of course, been organizational changes over the years. One example of change can be seen in the structure of the school management team, which transitioned from a two-person co-principalship to a three-person school leadership team (SLT). Each SLT includes a Western Co-Principal, Chinese Co-Principal, and a School Business Manager. While the Co-Principals’ primary focus is on the learning curriculum, student welfare, and leadership of staff, the Business Manager oversees all non-academic areas. Together, they function as a unified team responsible for all areas of school operation.
Education Director Tin Ip’s experience in education is well-rounded and diverse. From working in the UK, Hong Kong, and mainland China, Tin has served in a number of roles from educator to administrator. He describes his personal educational philosophy, “For as long as I can remember, passion and enthusiasm have been central to my teaching philosophy. When you teach, you must show that you are enthusiastic about your subject. Your enthusiasm, regardless of your teaching method, will then positively influence your students. That is, when you speak, they listen. If you can achieve that, then students will learn.” In an evolving world where technology is constantly changing the way children learn, Tin says the mission of a teacher remains the same, “The essential pre-requisite is still the teacher’s passion for teaching.” As a leader, Tin says he endeavors to lead by example, “I will not ask anyone to do anything that I am not prepared to do myself. I constantly remind myself that a leader is to serve and not to be served.”
Shannon Shang is Education Director and Education Director Coordinator for YCYW and has been teaching and working at YCYW schools since 2008. She shared how her experience as an educator helped shape her current role as an administrator. “Working at YCIS Shanghai for about seven years deepened my understanding of holistic education. We have very high expectations of both our teaching and learning quality. For example, I used to spend hours preparing a lesson to engage my students and then differentiating my lessons to meet their specific needs,” she says. Shannon notes that this also influenced her style as a leader, “We always keep the bar high.”
Both Tin and Shannon agree that another unique aspect of YCYW schools is the importance placed on soft skills and providing students with an inclusive multicultural environment. “Our teachers are adept at explicitly teaching soft skills that foster inclusivity and belonging, such as collaboration and self-regulation. These skills and inclusive learning opportunities are then infused into all units of study, providing a platform for our students to explore and learn together. The student’s curiosity and active learning have led to opening shops, running campaigns, creating productions, and more. In addition, our teachers actively encourage sharing our diverse cultural experiences and champion using our home languages and background experiences to enhance our learning.”
Remote Learning Lessons
The way that schools operate and how students and educators interact was changed enormously by the COIVD-19 pandemic. In China, as lockdowns linger, students are still routinely shifted to remote learning to abide by COVID-prevention measures. As Tin and Shannon agree, a key requirement that determines a student’s online learning success is the development of independent learning skills. “They need to be able to organize their work for themselves. They need to develop this ability before going online. Some activities, such as those which involve extended writing or group projects do not lend themselves to online classes. While motivated and self-disciplined students will do reading as class preparation, many will not, so the gap between those with good self-management skills and those without will widen if students are not properly prepared.” A frank and honest assessment of different students’ skillsets and abilities is imperative to keep in mind as online learning becomes part of our new normal. Tin and Shannon go on to reveal some strategies that have been helpful, “Keeping in close contact with parents is important, as it helps teachers to monitor students’ attendance and work outside class. It also helps to make parents feel valued. Younger students need a parent or other adult to watch their work and even sit with them during the lessons. Maintaining a sense of community for the school is crucial, even when working online. At YWIES Tongxiang, we organized some activities in which families could get involved, such as creating a collection of recipes called ‘Quarantine Cuisine,’ which included photos and videos of parents and students making dishes together.” Ultimately, though, Tin and Shannon credit the smooth transition to online learning to YCYW’s staff of both local and expatriate teachers who have been leading the continuous collaborative efforts to engage students.
Another impact of the pandemic has been the restriction of international travel both to and from China. For international schools like YCYW, that has meant many expatriate students and faculty have been curbing travel over the last few years. Despite these challenges, Tin and Shannon say that YCYW has not struggled with staff departures. They credit this to their rigorous interview process and deep commitment to developing and investing in faculty. They share, “Taking YCIS Beijing as an example, most of our teachers there hold master’s degrees or PhDs, and our overseas teachers have an average tenure of five years, often extending past their initial teaching period with our school. Many expatriate teachers have worked for us for five to ten years and three teachers have been with us for over a decade. Our long-term relationships with our teachers can be attributed to the safe and committed learning and teaching environment.”
In an effort to provide extra support to faculty during the pandemic, YCYW supplied additional resources for mental health support. Shannon says, “All of our teachers are equally respected and allowed to grow personally and academically through active teaching and professional development. Especially in these more uncertain times, the school has provided staff with counseling services if any personal or emotional challenges arise. Additionally, most of our teachers engage in the school sports teams, establishing time for friendship and well-being outside of teaching hours.” This sense of community and support that has been built over the 90 years of operation is part of what gives YCYW an edge when confronting challenges. Tin discusses one of the biggest takeaways from the pandemic period, “From the very beginning of the pandemic, YCYW schools started to explore and identify the most efficient and high-quality blended teaching and learning models. It became a learning moment for everyone, including faculty, the student body, parents, and school leaders, and it proved that nothing could stop us from working together. There will be more uncertainties in the future; however, we will continually cultivate students’ courage, wisdom, and flexibility so that they can take the initiative to meet challenges.”