Newsletter No. 545

‘H ow long is your article? How many sections and themes are there?’ On meeting the educational psychologist Dr. Sarah Luk in the quaint Ho Tim Building, I was asked point-blank the particulars of writing as she tried to condense the 11 questions she got prior to the interview. An hour later, the photographers arrived. Spotting the Nikon D750 digital SLR camera, her eyes glowed. ‘Mind if I take a look at that? Shall we take a picture together? Can we publish it?’ Talking to Sarah is a bemusing experience: soon it became hard to tell who the interviewee is. Her curiosity and ingenuousness tore down the invisible walls between people with seemingly no effort and endeared her to all. For more than a decade, this Professional Consultant of the Department of Educational Psychology has come to the aid of children and adolescents struggling with learning, emotional and social problems, and she is also the confidante of soul-searching adults. Under her wand, headstrong gifted children and special educational needs (SEN) students are tamed and pour their hearts out. This knack of hers elicited heartfelt confessions from veteran politicians like Emily Lau and former Financial Secretary John Tsang . A moment came in our interview when I confided a thing or two in her. She gave two light pats on my shoulder and at that instant, I knew she had turned from an interviewee to a counsellor. The trajectories taken by the human heart and the psychologist herself are convoluted: so I started with the basics and let her talk about educational psychology. ‘Educational psychology is an important branch of psychology, which avails itself of the science and research methods developed in psychology to make sense of our learning processes and outcomes,’ Sarah explained. ‘The phrase “learning processes and outcomes” is deceptively simple, as it encompasses different constellations of topics ranging from student behaviour, emotions, cognitive ability and personality; the moderation of learning environments, such as schools and the classroom; teacher-student relations, peer relations, to things in the greater scheme such as society, family and education policy—how they influence students’ learning and personal growth.’ When expounding that educational psychologists are children’s guardians with a mission to protect their rights to live, learn and grow, in such a way they may lead a full life, Sarah frowned slightly and looked sober, her eyes waxing into dark unfathomable waters. ‘Everyone has a different caliber. Some are SEN students, some are gifted, but so what? The key is to help them identify their goals and meanings in life.’ The Quest for Meaning Meaning is what Sarah holds dear to her heart for her whole life. She is a Christian, and since childhood, her mind has been filled with questions on religion, philosophy and suffering, what the source of pain is and why humans have to die. Hoping to get answers to these questions, she read religion and philosophy in her undergraduate study. She loved to teach, but it was difficult for a religion and philosophy graduate to land a teaching job. She therefore worked as a textbook editor for a year before finally becoming a teacher. Her teaching experience at Band 5 and Band 1 schools rekindled her interest in psychology which she studied during matriculation. The seeds sowed then sprouted into passions for educational psychology. A lover of language, Sarah focused on dyslexia early in her career, where she was given ample opportunities to look up-close at the linguistic features of words. Her doctoral thesis proposes two instructional approaches to aid dyslexic students in their learning of Chinese, which now see wide adoption in local primary schools. Later, the psychologist also conducted on-the-field training with teachers. Up till now, around 4,000 primary teachers of Chinese have been trained. But Sarah didn’t settle in the field of dyslexia. Around four or five years ago, she started her work with gifted children, especially twice exceptional children. ‘Twice exceptional children refer to those highly intelligent children who suffer one or more disabilities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, autism, dyslexia, etc.,’ she took a deep breath and smiled bitterly. ‘All are hardcore cases. These children have a lot of potential, yet they achieve so little. It’s like a Ferrari running at a bicycle’s speed. Take hyperactive gifted children as an example. They are curious, keen to learn and grasp things quickly, but as they cannot persevere, they go round and round in circles in their lives and achieve very little,’ she sighed. The Reluctant Heroine The choice of gifted children as her own ‘hell’ may have to do with an inconvenient fact: Sarah is gifted herself, and she sees herself in these children. What others regard as a halo appears to be gall to her, and this is an identity she reluctantly owed up to only one to two years ago due to work. She noted hesitantly, ‘To me, being gifted is more curse than blessing. People are transfixed with this label and cannot help heaping unrealistic hopes on you. Be it hyperactive, autistic or dyslexic, these labels only serve to describe a small part of who a person is. Psychology addresses the full person, and there is more to a person than what is seen with these labels. We hope people can take a holistic view.’ But giftedness does have its merits. More often than not, it wins her trust from gifted kids and their families, and a touch of viscerality. Three years ago, a mother brought along her son of IQ 140 to see her, complaining that her little one had pondered on becoming a beggar. She asked him for the plan, to which the Form 3 boy answered with the time, venue, various costumes and images he had considered. ‘Why not? Life planning asks us to make informed choices. He is passionate, he’s got plans, nobody can stop him.’ Sarah, a lukewarm learner when small, and the pauper aspirant seemed to have hit it off, to the dismay of the incredulous mother. Asking the mother to wait next door, the two gifted buddies had a tête-à-tête in the room. ‘Do you really want to be a beggar?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Miss Sarah, have you ever stood at the roundabout of the subway near the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, watching the passers-by? Human faces are such an intriguing sight, and begging such a meaningful and profitable trade. Let’s go and try—there you will see a microcosm of Hong Kong.’ 莎拉相贈的畫作,勉勵筆者「處變不驚,患難 中保持睿智」 A random sketch Sarah gifted to the writer, with the postscript: ‘Stay calm and be wise during difficult times’ 03 # 5 4 5 | 1 9 . 1 0 . 2 0 1 9