Emily H. Chan – Encouraging Students Towards Stronger Future

Contact sandel.edith@yahoo.com


About Emily

I grew up in Hong Kong. I graduated as a Ford Scholar and Terman Scholar from Stanford University with a BS degree in Industrial Engineering. Then I went to Harvard for an MBA. I was a management consultant for about ten years before my son was born. I became a stay-home mom. To keep my mind busy when my son was an infant, I wrote a book about business basics, which was subsequently published by Wiley and Sons in five languages.

Dawn of her Career

As my son grew, I became fascinated by education, which is supposed to be the new “rocket science.” I wanted a multi-language, progressive school for my son, but I couldn’t find one in Hong Kong. Eventually, I met three other moms who had the same frustrations. We decided to open our own school. So, that’s how I got into education. We founded Dalton School in Hong Kong, which now includes a boutique kindergarten and a charitable elementary school in collaboration with Tsinghua University Primary School. The same philosophy guides Dalton School Hong Kong as The Dalton School in New York, and we were very grateful that their administration came to Hong Kong for our opening to show support. We are in the middle of planning our expansion into a small charitable secondary school. It was a real learning experience starting a school from scratch and playing a role in everything from curriculum to bathroom fixtures decisions.

We relocated for my husband’s business ten years ago, but I remained involved with Dalton School Hong Kong at the board level. My son attended the International School of Beijing (ISB), and I was elected as a Trustee on the Board at ISB. It was a new experience as, unlike Dalton Hong Kong, ISB is a very established school.

Our family relocated to Shanghai a few years later. So, my son transferred to Shanghai American School (SAS), and I was elected as a Trustee on the SAS Board. SAS is another new experience; it is much bigger than ISB and has two campuses. SAS is also the oldest international school in China. We celebrated our 110th year this year. In the past few years, I have chaired the Human Resources Committee, Trusteeship Committee, and Head of School Search and Transition Committee. I have been serving as Board Chair since last year. I have been growing and learning a lot in school governance.

Contribution of Technology in Education

International school boards focus on strategy. So, in the last few years, a vital part of the strategy (and reality) for schools in China is the technology to support distance learning. For me, technology is not just computer hardware and software but also human resources like how to support teachers who are not used to online teaching, curriculum planning to engage students online, and screen-time balancing, especially for the younger kids. It took much effort by the school administration, faculty, and staff, but SAS can now switch from in-person to distance learning at more or less a moment’s notice.

Teaching Technology in K-12 Schools

I think technology is changing so fast that K-12 teachers, or anyone, can’t be well-versed in all key aspects. So, I feel we must tap into expert resources beyond our immediate community. Some leading universities are doing great work helping the K-12 sector. For example, my son attended a fantastic interactive online course called Stanford e-China, offered by SPICE at Stanford. During the course, he interacted with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Stanford professors on technologies changing the world, like green technology, e-currencies, and more. I think this kind of program from tertiary institutions supporting K-12 is critical to getting our students ready for the 21st century. I heard Fudan University Finance School is also launching a course along these lines.

I also think that while technology will no doubt continue to play a key role in the 21st century, we must remember to educate a “whole child,” which means we cannot forget humanities and the arts. K-12 schools can also tap into professionals for support. For example, the world-famous artist Fernando Botero (his works are displayed next to Picasso’s) has an office that welcomes opportunities to speak to students for free on art and art history, sometimes including hands-on studio experience for even little children. These are resources that many schools are not tapping into.

Instead of telling our children to learn, I also believe that parents should model lifelong learning and community engagement for their children through their actions. I have much respect for parents active in the Parents Teachers Students Association, as they are setting a great example for the children. For me, besides serving on school boards, I also serve as a fund-raising advisor for the Hong Kong Hereditary Breast Cancer Registry. The Registry was founded by one of my best friends and a most amazing surgeon Dr. Ava Kwong. One focus of the registry is public education and awareness to improve the knowledge of hereditary cancers in the general public. I enjoy getting educated and helping others get educated on critical issues.

Visionary Leader

I seek to contribute by making decisions genuinely guided by the institution’s mission. For example, one of SAS’s missions is life-long learning. So, whenever we have key decisions to make, we will ask ourselves, “how does this align with life-long learning? Are we learning? What can we learn from the best practices of others?”

Hitches Faced Along the Journey

I think supporting the needs of the different stakeholders in the ever-changing and utterly unpredictable COVID context in the past few years has been a real challenge for many schools. It is a challenge in Shanghai and Hong Kong even now. These are difficult situations for everyone, and the only way to a reasonable compromise is empathy, trust, and unity, which requires factual, continuous, transparent, and timely communications and a constant reminder that, as a school, community safety and student learning must come first.

Motivation for the Motivator

I am a natural workaholic. So, I will spend every minute of my time working whenever there is a responsibility to fulfill, service to complete, or promise to keep. But what makes me happy is to see progress, especially progress made to challenging problems, and to work in partnership with my peers and team. What demotivates or infuriates me is hypocrisy, politics, and lack of professionalism.

Current Educational Scenario of China

In China, for many international schools, changing demographics is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities. With many companies reducing the ex-pats they send to China, either because they are replacing ex-pats with locals or downsizing their China business, international schools are beginning to have many more local Chinese families who may not be familiar with international school philosophies, visions, and missions. This causes conflicts. For example, some families may want more Chinese classes or more homework than what an international education seeks to offer. But this is also an opportunity to integrate the host country’s language and culture more into the school, which is conducive to global citizenship and international understanding, breaking what was sometimes described as the “international school bubble.”

Her Torchbearer

I would say Sir Ken Robinson and my family influenced me the most. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks are among the most popular TED talks of all time, and his books are bestsellers. I stumbled upon these videos when my son was about three, and they got me thinking about the education system I have taken for granted. His talks and books shed light on the problems of our current education system and a vision of how it can be improved, all with a sense of British humor. For example, the current system of putting students into grades by age is based on the assembly line batching system during the industrial age. His talks made a significant impact on me. They inspired me to found Dalton in Hong Kong.

My family is the other significant influence. I had no interest in education before my son was born. I was more into a career in strategy and consulting. But the mother’s instinct to provide the best for one’s child, observation of how the world has changed since my time in school, and the lack of logic in elements of the traditional education system that I went through made me deeply interested in how education should work for my son and many like him. I am grateful that my husband has been very supportive.

Life Lesson for All

I like the SAS’ mission statement a lot: have the courage to live your dreams, pursue life-long learning, and be guided by integrity and empathy. Time flies. So, make use of it well.

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