Mentorship programmes help students think for themselves

Mentorship programmes help students think for themselves

Hong Kong students spend hours in tutorials each week. But there's much more to success than just memorising facts, figures and formulas

Good grades are important, but they're not the only things that matter. That's why more students are choosing to work with mentors.

"The difference between a tutoring centre or school, and having a mentor, is that a mentor won't just give me the answers," says Maggie Law, a 17-year-old Pope Paul VI College student. She took part in the year-long mentoring scheme run by the Hong Kong Academy for Gifted Education, an organisation that supports gifted students aged 10-18.

Maggie is passionate about science, so she was matched with Ricky Leung, a University of Hong Kong PhD candidate who specialises in earth science and physics.

"Ricky guides me to think for myself and to discover answers on my own," Maggie explains. "In school, we are too dependent on our teachers for the answers, and we lose the ability to find solutions on our own."

Ricky Leung wants to teach his mentees life skills you can't find in a textbook. Photo: Henry Lui

Leung says he doesn't want to teach his mentees things they can learn from their curriculum. "The most important goal for me is to teach them soft skills - critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication - skills they can apply to any field."

As for Maggie, she says she learned more than just new skills; she gained a new outlook on life. "Before the programme, I was very confident because my grades had always been good. But afterwards, I realised how much I still have to learn. I didn't even know how to use Excel! It showed me I can't afford to be too proud, and that I need to keep searching and learning."

Rachel Ng, a business major at Chinese University, and a former student of St Paul's Co-Educational College, agrees.

Before finding a mentor through her school's programme, she also had no idea how important soft skills were in "the real world".

"I learned how to communicate in an adult's world," says Ng. In the mentor programme, she realised that she often approached problems one-dimensionally, whereas "an adult will think about it from many different angles".

According to Ng's mentor, the students aren't the only ones who benefit from the programme.

"It's very satisfying to be able to offer someone an opportunity that may help shape their career," says Christina Gaw, a St Paul's alumni and Ng's former mentor.

Maggie Law feels she's more confident and takes more initiative than her peers who aren't in a mentorship programme. Photo: Heidi Yeung

She credits the St Paul's programme with allowing her to stay plugged in to youth culture in Hong Kong, which helps her relationship with her own four children.

Gaw, who leads the investment company Gaw Capital, says a mentor gives a student insights into their chosen field, something no school book can offer.

"As a business owner I can share how I decide to hire someone, what I look for, and what subjects in university are relevant to the industry," she explains.

The relationship is also a valuable networking opportunity, as the mentor might remember their student if an opportunity ever comes up. This is because of the close bond that develops between the pair.

"I respect Tina [Gaw] the same way I respect my professors," Ng says with a smile. "But I feel closer to her. We're like friends."

Like a friend, a mentor has different methods of providing motivation.

"Ricky uses compliments and encouragement to drive me, but schools tend to do that by pointing out your flaws or shortcomings," Maggie says. "Constant compliments aren't helpful, but constantly putting someone down isn't good either; it makes students lose sight of their virtues and strengths."

Some students will learn more than others from a mentorship programme, because it all depends on one's initiative. But both Maggie and Ng are clearly full of confidence.

"The best advice Ricky gave me was not to beat myself up," Maggie says. "I might still doubt myself during my research, but I've discovered my potential. I've learned to trust myself, and not just look to others to solve my problems for me."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Making the most of a mentor


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