Classy Lady - Kids' Gallery

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Classy Lady - Kids' Gallery

2 Magenta cocktail dressby Escada3 Printed jersey dress byAlexander McQueen(Guest’s own)Black strapped MaryJane pumps by Escada2She says: “I’m torn, I really am. I tendnot to like the internet at all. Children aretoo addicted to electronic devices in general,not just the internet. You never see a childwith a book anymore, which upsets me.They’re always walking around playing thingsthat are beeping and flashing.“We have two-year-olds walking aroundwith iPads playing games. How can that beas good as going out to play? Or painting?Or reading a book? There’s no way someonecan tell me that it is more beneficial thanreal-life activities.”A serious concern for her is howprograms such as Facebook can affectchildren and teenagers at an importantstage in their development. She says: “I cansee the advantages of Facebook, but thereare also so many disadvantages. Teenagersare the most influenced by their peers andwant to be like everyone else. They wantto do the same things, to have the sameamount of money.“People are always showing off onFacebook and then other people feel inferiorbecause their friend’s photos are better thantheir photos or something similar. It’s awful.“People post pictures of themselves atparties or with other people all glammedup and I think this makes a lot of kids feelbad and aspire to things that are actuallynot important. It’s detrimental to theirdevelopment. I think we’re right in themiddle of a huge revolution here, I really do.”As a 45-year-old, she does admit tobeing something of a “dinosaur” on theissue, but then she’s been through this wholedifficult issue with her own kids. Neitherof her two daughters—now aged 19 and17—were allowed Facebook accounts untilWe have two-year-olds walking aroundwith iPads playing games. How can thatbe as good for them as going out to play?they were 16 years old. This inevitably gaverise to many “but everyone else in my yearhas got one” arguments which Hotung sayswere always difficult to manage.It is hard to argue with her concernswhen, from her position, she can soclearly see the changes in the behaviourof children today compared to when shefirst set up Kids’ Gallery 15 years ago. Shesays: “I think children are finding it muchmore difficult to concentrate nowadays.It’s very hard for them to sit down and doan activity for any length of time. This islargely because they’re so used to beingdistracted or to be doing three things at thesame time with flashing lights and soundsand objects flying at them.“That’s why what we do at Kids’ Galleryis so important. Everything we do is backto core values. We’re painting with brushes,we’re acting plays from scripts, we’re dancingto music—it’s all live, not virtual. Nothingwe do is virtual. It’s getting the kids to engagewith other real people in a real environment.“It’s nice to see kids that can actually sitdown for an hour and just paint. It’s sucha relief. It might seem a bit old fashionednowadays but there’s real value in that.”Hotung has a definite primary-schoolteacherair about her. She is open andfriendly, yet also intelligent, clear and direct.She is also extremely passionate about whatshe does. Before she started Kids’ Galleryin 1996, her own children were enrolled ina local primary school. While she admiredthe rigour and discipline of their school,she also felt that there was a side of theirdevelopment that was being neglected.Her keen business mind spied a gap in themarket for an enterprise that could providethe development opportunities that shethought were missing.She says: “I’ve always tried to strikea happy medium between the advantagesand disadvantages of Western and Easterneducation practices. The West successfully3focuses on process and presentation, enquirybasedlearning, thinking for yourself andproblem solving. The downsides of this canbe a lack of achieving strong final results, aswell as a certain lack of discipline in valuingeducation and the opportunities it provides.“Eastern education is all about respectfor the teacher and the curriculum, which,while admirable, can stifle debate anddisagreement. I have seen local childrenat Kids’ Gallery who want to be toldwhich colour paint to use or exactly howto draw an object. When asked to chooseor experiment for themselves, they areintimidated. Once they are given theopportunity for self-expression, however,they often cannot be stopped.”Hotung was herself encouraged by herparents—a Eurasian, she is the daughter ofa British father and Chinese mother—to tryout new activities when she was a child. Sheexperimented with a wide range of interests,including piano and clarinet lessons, ballet,horseriding, debating, speech and drama. Anaturally shy child, she says that engaging inthese activities—and never feeling forced todo so—helped her to develop a confidencethat may not have otherwise had a chance tosurface.This confidence was a necessity—bornand raised in Hong Kong, she was sent toboarding school in London at the age of ten.She later studied for a bachelor’s degree at theSchool of Oriental and African Studies, again134 135


in London, before winning a place on Marks& Spencer’s graduate training programme.After two years at M&S she moved toPricewaterhouseCoopers, but it had alreadybegun to dawn on her that the corporateculture of big companies was not for her. Shesays: “I liked the structure and I loved thesystems. I’m still very much a systems person.My business is very much run on systems.I also loved the training I got, because Iwould not have been able to get that kind oftraining in a small business.“What I didn’t like was the politics,the aspiring to have the corner office in fiveyears’ time or to have a bigger company car.Marks & Spencer is an incredibly successfulcompany, but when you start there as amanagement trainee you’re a nobody.“They actually encourage you to makeyourself known, to raise your profile in thecompany so that you don’t just disappearbetween the cracks. That sort of jockeying forposition and having to get people to noticeyou, I just wasn’t into that. I just wanted toenjoy doing my work and be rewarded for it.”Shortly after relocating back to HongKong with PwC she left the company andstarted a family with her husband, Michael.She embarked upon an MBA and her finaldissertation, prompted by her children’sschooling, was her business plan for Kids’Gallery. In 1996 she turned her visioninto a reality. She started the business in asmall room providing a single course to herfriends’ children.In just six months the business beganto turn a profit. Now, Kids’ Gallery is partof the KG Group, the enterprise Hotungset up to control the school’s snowballingsuccess. There are Kids’ Galleries in HongKong, Guangzhou, Seoul, Bangkok,Singapore and, most recently, New Delhi.The group comprises 120 staff and, in HongKong alone at any one time, it can have upto 2,500 students on its books.Hotung attributes much of her business’ssuccess to the simple fact that parents wantthe best for their children. She says: “I thinkparents are desperately concerned to providethe best for their children and will enrolthem in programmes that they believe willhelp them develop as people and gain entryto better schools and, ultimately, universities.“The world has definitely become morecompetitive since I was a child. Childrennowadays, and especially in Asia, are overloadedwith school, tutors, extra-curricularactivities—all to gain an edge over thecompetition. They come to Kids’ Gallerybecause parents want to give them some‘down time’ in a fun, arts-based programmewhile still feeling that they are learninguseful skills.”As the industry has developed, so too hasHotung and how she positions her school.Whereas it started off concentrating on visualarts and crafts, over the years the focus hasshifted to performing and communicativearts, such as public-speaking and presentationskills, in line with a burgeoning local demandfor such disciplines.She says: “We have tiny three-year-oldslearning manners and social skills, becausethere’s a huge demand for that here. I thinkparents in Hong Kong want their childrento develop confidence. In the local schoolsystem it’s very much a case of sit and listento the teacher, don’t answer back and youwon’t be asked your opinion.“If you want to get on in the worldtoday though, if you want to go overseas tostudy or get into a good university, you haveto actually have something to say for yourselfand have an opinion on things. Parents arerealising that, and the Communication Artsclasses actually encourage their children tospeak up more and not be so shy.”This month sees Kids’ Gallery celebrateits 15th anniversary and with the openingof the New Delhi school just last month—the furthest location from the group’sHong Kong home—it is clear Hotung isnot content with sitting still. Though she isOnce the kids are given the opportunity forself-expression, they often cannot be stoppedinterested in spreading across Asia, it is themainland in particular where she would liketo expand. She is already well placed witha school in Guangzhou, but she does notunderestimate the challenge the mainlandrepresents, having been stung theretwice before.She used to have schools in bothBeijing and Shanghai but has been forcedto close both in the last two years. She says:“In Hong Kong we can mix local kids withinternational kids and it still works. WithChina, there’s still a big gap between localsand expatriates, so it’s difficult to mergethem into one class. You have to choose.We started off focusing on expats but then,during SARS, they all disappeared. The expatmarket is transitory. It’s very hard to run abusiness based on expats.“On the other hand, if we base itentirely on locals, there’s an educationprocess involved there in showing them howwe’re trying to teach and what we’re tryingto achieve.“It’s a different mindset, as the localmarket is very much focused on the endproduct, the score on the report card.We need to try and walk this fine linebetween the two mindsets and to create anenvironment where both feel comfortable.”Asia’s education industry is booming,particularly on the mainland. If Hotung canget the formula right—to balance China’stricky local/expat equation—the rewards forestablishing a network of extra-curricularschools in tier-one cities could be huge.She’s already helped thousands ofchildren avoid turning into academic dronesby providing an outlet for them to trulyexpress themselves. Success in the mainland,then, feels like an inevitability. That is iftechnology doesn’t beat her to it—and turnsthe kids into beeping, flashing drones of anentirely different kind.Text: Tom Eves Art Direction: San Wong Photos: Nic Gaunt Make-up & Hair: Evelyn Ho Venue: Villa Bel-AirBlack silk fishtail evening dress by Richard Tyler Collection (Guest’s own)136 137

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