Education consultant Samuel Chan wants parents to choose schools based on a new set of criteria. Read his case for being taught how to think, rather than what to know.
Born in Hong Kong as the child of a local fisherman, Samuel Chan credits his time studying abroad with changing his life. Now he is the founder of Hong Kong’s largest education consultancy agency, Britannia Studylink, established in 2013. Sitting at the head of this rapidly expanding platform that connects local Hong Kong school children with renowned boarding schools in the UK, he argues a strong case for the reassessment of our very idea of what a good education should be, fighting to connect children to schools based on personality rather than league-boards and dictated career paths. Determined to help shape a system where children are taught how to think, rather than what to know, he sat down with us to discuss why the right school isn’t always the ‘best’ school.
Whilst hard work and perseverance got Britannia to where it is today, the origins of its story start with a nine-year old’s summer holiday. Samuel explains, “Just before secondary school, I went to summer camp and immediately experienced overseas education as a very different system of learning. Teaching was no longer about memorising; it was more about understanding and thinking critically. I enjoyed school and I wanted to stay in school, which I think is very important.”
After begging his parents to let him stay, he went to boarding school at Gresham’s Prep School in Norfolk. “Not to quantify success, but my grades went from D’s and E’s to 9A’s and A stars in GCSEs.” From this, Samuel went to study economics, did a post-graduate at Warwick University and was awarded the British Council’s Alumni award last year. Of his experience, Samuel says this transition from Hong Kong to the UK “was a life-changer.” It led him to create Britannia, a platform that places Hong Kong students in UK boarding schools. Today, Britannia also offers guardianship, summer camps in Hong Kong and the UK, educational talks, tutoring, PR and are now the exclusive provider for Harrow International in Hong Kong.
The question remains: why do Hong Kong students need the opportunity to go abroad rather than continue their studies in Hong Kong? On a basic level, Samuel talks about the facilities and resources available at these UK schools. “There’s just lots of space, we’re talking about three hundred acres, whereas, a school in Hong Kong is the size of a house in the UK due to the notoriously high real estate.”
However, the reason at the core of Britannia’s existence lies in a fundamental difference in the educational approach. “I can’t deny that there are very successful people that were educated in Hong Kong. Our cramming system makes amazing executors and gets you top grades. But, to make a generalisation, what Hong Kong lacks are thinkers. The UK curriculum is friendly, it’s about first understanding the subject and then developing a passion, and from that deciding a future career. In Hong Kong, it’s more about, study everything, cram it in, do well in all of it and then hopefully, one of them will become your passions.” And, in today’s world, the skillset required to succeed is changing. It demands literacy and interpersonal skills over skills like reciting the periodic table. “If you look at the World Economic Forum, the expected top ten skills in 2020 will be cognitive flexibility and creativity rather than, for example, memorisation.”
When helping parents pick schools, Samuel is commonly asked which school is best. Part of his business is to alter this way of thinking. “There is no best, there is only the most suitable school for your child.” This idea shines through Britannia’s selection process. Instead of regurgitating a school’s stats and figures, Britannia provides them with the tools needed to make an informed decision. And so, Samuel created a platform that matches students to schools based on preference and suitability rather than anonymous league-boards. “I visited over two hundred schools in half a year,” during which time he checked his own set of criteria; the boarding ratio, how many Hong Kong children there were, how they were distributed and even interviewed the headmasters. It is this invaluable first-hand knowledge that lies at the heart of his company, and why 95% of Hong Kong students studying abroad in the UK were connected through Britannia.
However, the betterment of Hong Kong children’s education is the passion that really drives Samuel. He believes investing in each child to have an education most suited to their personality and needs is investing in a future generation of happier, more successful adults. “Because that’s my story – I wasn’t a scholar or the brightest student. I had the opportunity to start with a passion, do something good for society, sell it well and then make a living…well, it was a no-brainer.”