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Stepping into Fanling Assembly of God Church Primary School is like entering an art gallery with large mural paintings and stained-glass windows. ‘We’ve turned the campus into a picture frame, where students can paint and draw anywhere,’ said Fung Wai-man, Head of the school’s Visual Arts Panel, excitedly. This is her accomplishment after 20 years of dedication and hard work. Ms Fung, who joined the school when it was established, once felt quite disheartened in the early years of her teaching career. ‘The heavy teaching and administrative workload was exhausting and I found myself burned out and bewildered.’ Later, she took a diploma course in illustration, which broadened her horizons and also rekindled her passion for teaching.

Classes full of fun

As Visual Arts is not a major subject, many parents and students regard it as ‘leisure’. However, Ms Fung is convinced that arts education has a significant impact on students. ‘It guides students to see beauty and learn how to appreciate it.’ As Head of Visual Arts Panel, when she designs courses at various levels, she wants students to learn step-by-step art skills and techniques. She develops the courses based on students’ interests, so that they can have fun in learning. ‘Printmaking is a good example. Students like this kind of creative medium very much. When holding a carving knife, they feel that they’re no longer little boys or girls.’ In order to see for herself the capability of students, Ms Fung insists that some assignments must be completed in class. ‘I look at the works of students one by one in class and give suggestions for improvement.’ She encourages students to introduce their own works and offer comments to each other. Sometimes when students resist presenting their works in front of people, she would set an example by letting them see what she herself has made. ‘I hope students can be bold enough to show their creative works and learn to share with others. Their reluctance to do so stems mainly from a lack of self-confidence. Teacher’s encouragement is very important.’

Integrating art into life

In order to promote experiential learning, Ms Fung conceived some teaching activities for students to share ‘the fun of art’. These refreshing experiential activities were wide-ranging and rich in variety, including sketching and exploring ancient Chinese architecture at the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail in the school’s vicinity, and interacting with the local community. In addition, the campus was turned into an art gallery for a three-dimensional reproduction of Van Gogh’s famous painting Vincent’s Room in Arles. Another group of students used box pens to draw on foamboards and assembled a three-dimensional version of Spanish painter Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece The Ladies-in-waiting. Students learnt how to draw and cut the foamboards to scale so that people can stand behind them and become part of the scene. Colourful paintings of students can also be found here and there – in 14 spots – on campus, such as one on a manhole cover, or the image of a cat over a water pipe on a wall. The teachers produced a map with these art works afterwards and distributed copies to all students in the school. ‘Students in the junior forms were overjoyed to use the map to find these attractions.’

Ms Fung advocates integrating art into life. ‘ ‘‘Practice’’ is the key point. In addition to promoting creative endeavours in everyday life, it’s also important to cultivate in children a sense of appreciation for people and things from various perspectives.’ Every activity requires a lot of preparation. ‘Throw caution to the wind and go ahead! Have a theme first and buy the materials before coming up with an implementation plan and getting down to the nitty-gritty,’ she said matter-of-factly. With an amused look, Ms Fung said that she had always followed the rules, but devising these activities had made her rethink her approach. ‘Teaching visual arts cannot be too self-limiting. We must have the courage to try new things and be daring.’

She integrated her daily teaching activities and put them under the theme titled ‘Seeing Beyond – Modern Art Experiential Learning for Primary School Students’, winning an ‘Award for Arts Education in Schools’ among the 14th Hong Kong Arts Development Awards held in 2020 subsequently.

Award for Teaching Excellence

Ms Fung’s passion for art education and innovative teaching has got not only applause in her school but also recognition in the profession. Receiving the Chief Executive’s Award for Teaching Excellence (Arts Education Key Learning Area) in 2017 gave her a fantastic feeling. ‘The accolade has affirmed the principles I hold dear and teaching approach. I’ve always reminded myself to be down-to-earth rather than fanciful.’ She is particularly pleased to see some of her students who had shown no interest in visual arts, with support and encouragement, gradually became more willing to participate in class. Some of them even chose to continue to study art or become designers or visual arts teachers.

Ms Fung was also a scholarship awardee when she was a student of our Bachelor of Education with Honours in Primary Education programme. ‘It was quite unforgettable, because back then I never thought I’d get it.’ In fact, the award was not just a matter of chance or luck. Although she was busy with work, she decided to attend all the tutorial classes and treasured every interaction with tutors. ‘The tutors come from various backgrounds. With their substantial experiences, they could give us many practical and real-life examples rather than just talk about theories.’ She also related her actual experience as a teacher in her study assignments and the good feedback had a positive impact on her teaching.

Children nowadays grow up in an age where information technology is prevalent and most of them have little patience for creative endeavours, which makes teaching very challenging. As Ms Fung continues to put effort in her teaching, she also ponders about passing the baton to the younger generation. ‘I often share experience with young colleagues, giving them opportunities to learn and practise.’ Regarding her expectations for them, Ms Fung said earnestly: ‘You must teach visual arts with all your heart and soul, with no thought of gain or loss. Love doing this wholeheartedly before you can make any headway.’