Unfair. This is how Arthur Lau describes Hong Kong. The government, the education system, the widening wealth gap ... they're all unfair. So the 27-year-old decided something had to be done. In December 2012, he and his two partners, Andy Ho and Keith Poon, founded Hong Kong Volunteer Tutors (HKVT).
"The [HKVT] is a programme that helps Hong Kong students, particularly the underprivileged, who are unable to receive the same standard of education as their wealthier counterparts," Lau says.
"The poorer students cannot afford the fees in private schools. That makes them less motivated and competitive because they don't think they will do well, and this lack of drive lowers their chances of social mobility. I hope that underprivileged students can fight the injustice of our society and progress up the social ladder."
Students who can't afford private lessons can sign up online to request a teacher for a subject they would like tutoring in. A volunteer will reply, and then the student and tutor can arrange a time and a place to meet.
When asked about the potential safety issues of meeting strangers through the internet, Lau said he believes in the integrity of the people involved with the programme, but he still advises that students only meet in public places and never go to a tutor's home.
The programme also offers talks and seminars on various topics such as coping with exam stress. There are also online learning resources, and a sharing forum comprising former students.
Lau's own life didn't work out the way he had originally planned. As a finance student, he dreamed of making a lot of money, but after the 2008 financial crisis, Lau left a job he hated and went to work as a radiologist in a public hospital.
He is much happier now and does not want other students to make the same mistakes. He stresses that not all students are academically gifted. Some students' talents may lie in other areas, such as cooking or construction work, he says.
As most of the students involved in the programme come from poor families, they have had little exposure to the outside world. "Another mission of ours is to provide a platform for students to know more about the world," Lau says, adding that he hopes HKVT can help them choose the right path and make the most of their lives.
"Our programme broadens the horizons of students so that they know they are not doomed if they do not excel in education," he says. "As the Chinese saying goes, 'One may distinguish himself in any trade', so one's occupation does not matter at all. There are a lot of paths to success out there."
Lau says he feels blessed because so far HKVT has had few problems finding volunteer teachers.
"I myself do not need to be a volunteer teacher as there are quite a lot of them, especially after public examinations and during long holidays," he adds.
There are a few requirements for anyone interested in becoming a volunteer teacher. Those teaching primary and junior secondary school students should at least be Form Four graduates. For senior secondary school students, volunteer teachers should be university students or secondary school graduates with good results in public exams.
If charities such as HKVT are the only ones trying to reduce the city's wealth gap, things will take a long time to change. For things to happen quickly, the government must act, Lau says.
"The quality of the teachers, the teaching tools, and the resources vary dramatically from school to school," he adds. "It is essential for the government to design teaching kits and resources which can be used by all teaching institutions, regardless of whether they are public, subsidised or private."
Teaching resources should not be secretive; they should be available to everyone in Hong Kong - free of charge, he says. "Also, free educational videos should be made so that all students, especially those who cannot afford private tutoring, can receive quality education at home, if not at school."
For more details, visit Hong Kong Volunteer Tutors.