Jessie Tang Yat-tai is no ordinary university student. She is a veteran graphic designer and a single mother with an autistic child.
Tang is now in her third year at the Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) taking bachelor of education in visual arts.
"I love teaching art and learning about special needs education, so I started an art education activity - `Fun with Ceramics' - to bring special students and those from mainstream school together for a series of workshops," she says.
The scheme, which started in April and ended last week, was one of the student-initiated activities under HKIEd's Visual Arts Education and Community Development Project, which received a HK$5 million donation from Andrew Chan, chairman and managing director of Kim Lung Fashion, and his wife, Grace Chan. The fund is for art community activities initiated by HKIEd teachers and students.
`Fun with Ceramics' engaged 40 primary and secondary students in six workshops that were supervised by 12 student-volunteers from HKIEd. Tang says it was a learning process for everyone, with HKIEd students getting the chance to see what special needs education is all about. Meanwhile, students from mainstream and special schools learned how to get along with one another. "Doing ceramics is a channel for integration between different parties," Tang says.
Wong Ka-yee and Li Yun, both Form Five students from St Paul's Secondary School, say they joined the project because they love the art of ceramics, adding that they gained much more than skills from the activity.
"On the first day, we were split into groups, with special students sitting in one corner and mainstream students in another," Wong says. There was little interaction, but as they started making ceramics, the ice was broken. "Special students dazzled me with their creativity and skills," Wong adds.
Li says the experience was very enlightening. "There was a special student in my group who always threatened to hit me. When I said I would get upset if he did so, he repeatedly said he was sorry. I could feel that he was really sincere with his apology," she says.
Sam Leung Wai-sum, a special student from Mary Rose School, impressed his classmates with a ceramic octopus. "I love making ceramics. I like things that I see in pictures and I make them out of ceramics. I created the octopus to raise awareness about protecting the environment. I want to tell people not to eat octopus any more because they are facing extinction," he says.
HKIEd volunteer Edith Ko Wai-hung, a third-year student taking up bachelor of education in general studies, was impressed by the creativity of special students. "If you ask mainstream students to make a cup, they will come up with more or less the same thing, but work of special students is unique. They will give you a cup with a hole and a pig with no eyes, nose and mouth. There is no right or wrong - it demonstrates what they think."
Ko says she learned to be patient and attentive while taking care of special students. "You have to be precise with how you communicate with them. Don't ask them if they want to use yellow paint. Show it to them to make sure it is what they want. Sometimes special students are so involved with work that they forget to go to the bathroom and will not stop for a break even if they are exhausted. You need to be aware of their needs and remind them."