Saturday, September 26, 2009

Craig's day yesterday

Yesterday was a fascinating day. Gail helped to organise an on-site meeting for me with Headmaster Ben Norton at International Christian School. It was gob-smacking really to see the facilities that they have. Check out the indoor pool with electronic timers on page 16 of this publication. halls, IT coming out your ears....even five large flat screen TVs donated by SONY spread around....a few very big benefactors (including one Buddhist?) writing huge cheques...Several hundred million HK$ later they have a new school. It was interesting for me to hear how they and quite a number of independent schools even issue Corporate Debentures (eg ICS issues them for HK$1M) in return for a guaranteed enrolment space!

With the HK govt still very nervous about Swine Flu, all school visitors have their temperature taken with equipment that looks like a portable speed radar gun from a police car. The data is then recorded by security at the front entrance.

Besides all the flash stuff, it was encouraging to hear first-hand how a Christian school to them is more than just a name in the school title. It's been surprising (and sad) to visit Baptist Colleges (a post-secondary one today) which are very secular... nothing Christ-centred, focused, or even mentioned by them in anything you see, or in the staff you talk to. It makes me wonder what triggered them to go wrong and lose their Christian foundation and what I can do to change that.

It was also very interesting to hear Ben share the process (challenges) that ICS went through in adopting a modified Carver model of their Board also follows the norm here where they are self-appointing and not formally accountable to broader stakeholders in the same way as all my previous school Boards have public AGM and very vague annual financial reports.......etc.

On a personal note, Ben also shared with me today of a new special education program that ICS is piloting / starting up for students with moderate disabilities. They are currently applying to the HK Education Bureau regarding their proposed fees. (You need permission/approval from the HK Govt on even your fee levels!) I haven't studied anti-discrimination laws here yet but understand it's very legal to charge students who need more support higher fees. ICS are interviewing teachers right now and they expressed an interest in seeing Renee's CV. Going off the way God has blessed us to date I wouldn't be surprised to see Renee get the job. It's right up her alley and really the only type of teaching job she's interested in. To cap it off, it's in a Christian school!

Since visiting ICS, my big picture plans for Small World have been stretched. I guess I also have a greater acceptance of the price of education here, even with cheap staff. I have been discovering many interesting things like the law here which says school fees can only be billed monthly in advance. HK has a very simple personal tax system (including something like a $150,000 annual deduction for a dependant spouse and $100,000 for each child!) yet a very complicated bureaucracy in Government agencies who don't communicate with each other very well.

I'm checking out what school (Accounting, HR and School Administration) software other HK schools use. Surprisingly to date, most of them just use simple in-house Access databases / Excel spreadsheets! There seems to be a lot of room in the industry to roll out software and consulting up here!

I also spent the afternoon being a 'very green' tour guide for Charles Ebden (SCEA CFO) and his wife. They were in HK for today only on a stop over on a seven-day cruise.

It was great to catch up with them and share some experiences with them like catching a train in our beautifully clean stations...

An almost empty train, a very rare experience here in Hong Kong.

From memory, Australian train stations do not offer free internet access...yet...

The next few shots were taken with Charles and Anne as we toured the central area of HK island and up from The Peak which overlooks the CBD and Kowloon.

Here's an interesting business venture that I haven't seen elsewhere yet.

It's an umbrella dispensing machine. For only $11AUD, you can pick your favourite colour of the rainbow and don't even need the right change, just swipe your Octopus Card.

After saying good bye to Charles and Anne it was time to go home and here's a few shots on the way (3 different trains - maximum waiting time between connections - 2 minutes) .

This is a "normal" train...packed quite full...

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