SCMP Saturday, December 9, 2000
A life-long learning curve
With nine degrees to his name, Dr Nip Kam-fan is surely the ultimate life-long learner. Studying, though, is only a part-time occupation. When not at his books, he sits on 12 school councils and chairs several charity and Christian organisations.
Engineering, maths, economics, Western literature, Chinese humanities and divinity are just some of the subjects he has mastered over the past 40 years.
Before retiring, Dr Nip worked as a government engineer, rising to director of the Territory Development Department in the 1980s. Over the years, however, he has found time to complete six Bachelor degrees and two Master's degrees and a doctorate, many through distance learning. He has also raised four children.
Academic study has become an integral part of his life, he said. So much so that he sometimes takes it for granted others know what he is on course for next. "My wife did not know I was doing one of my Open University degrees until just before I went for one of the exams," he recalled.
Dr Nip, who will be 68 next week, is now working on a science degree with the Open Learning Institute in Vancouver. "I am counting this as a half because it is an Associate degree rather than a Bachelor degree," he said.
Since retiring from government service in 1992, he has been the executive director of the Haven of Hope Christian Service. His involvement with school management, though, goes back much further to 1964.
Today he has 12 schools under his wing as either school supervisor or manager, the most recent being the subsidised Christian Nationals' Evangelism Commission Lau Wing Sang Secondary School, opened in 1999. "After receiving education in Hong Kong over all these years, I would like to give something back now," he said.
As the school's supervisor, Dr Nip attended its first anniversary ceremony last week. "I delivered a speech in an assembly shortly after the school opened. Through telling students my experiences in studying, I tried to motivate them to learn."
This year, the school has introduced classes and seminars on motivation. The school also co-organises a programme with the charity Caritas to assist students in their studies, in particular those who cannot afford to pay for extra tutoring.
"Students will benefit from the classes because they can apply the techniques learned in their studying process," said Dr Nip, a believer in the value of hard work.
"I have developed more and more interests through studying. There are unlimited things to learn, and it will be a continuous process until I leave this world."
As to the best way to inspire students to learn, he said: "There is no one method. It is something individual and one needs to find one's own interest."
Dr Nip feels that today's students lack drive because they have too many other distractions claiming their attention. "They are addicted to television and video games. It is meaningless simply asking them to adopt life-long learning. They must be motivated to acquire knowledge and develop their own interests."
Dr Nip was not particularly studious during his primary school days in Wan Chai. His interest in studying was only sparked during the Second World War. "I spent three years studying in a village school in Xin Hui, in the mainland, where I was taught maths, biology and trigonometry," he said.
Dr Nip had few distractions, and no siblings to play with. His father, a younger brother and his sister all died young, and his mother never interfered with his school work. "My eagerness to learn stemmed from the days when I came first or second in the village school. Once I found myself capable of accomplishing that, I was motivated to learn."
When he and his mother returned to Hong Kong, Dr Nip continued his junior and senior secondary years in Ellis Kadoorie AM School and Queen's College, ranking among the top three in his year. "I got better in maths, and remained first across the form throughout my senior secondary years," he said.
He remained an eager learner through to university, though his mother did not push him to reach this level. "My mother never said a word about my school performance. She never put pressure on me, nor praised me when I performed well."
He chose to pursue engineering over science when he realised he was slightly colour-blind, and in 1956, he graduated with a Bachelor's degree in engineering.
It was during this course that he really began to develop an avid love of books, and since his first days as a student he has monitored and recorded his daily reading. "I have no definite length of time that I spend reading, but I worked out that this was an effective way of monitoring my learning and stretching myself to the fullest. If my reading lags, I feel guilty because I have wasted my time."
Going on vacation is the only activity that interferes with his studies. "As the Chinese saying goes, travelling 10,000 miles is better than reading 10,000 books. One can always study, but not travel," said Dr Nip.
But wherever he is, he is always accompanied by his current book - during this interview it was the turn of The Complete Sherlock Holmes.
Dr Nip also strictly monitors the content of his reading. "From my records, I know how I use my reading time. I am not concentrating if I spend too much time on fiction."
After he graduated, Dr Nip was employed by the Hong Kong Government as an apprentice engineer, eventually working his way up to become director of the Territory Development Department in 1984. He got married one year after graduation, and has three daughters and a son.
Christianity has been a key influence since he met his wife, a devout Christian, when he was a student. For the past 20 years he has been heavily involved in Christian organisations. His work has included time as chairman of the Bible Ceremony of Hong Kong, director of Asian Outreach International and World Vision Hong Kong, and vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bible Conference Association. He begins and ends each day with a mix of religion and scholarship, reading the Bible in French with a dictionary at hand - just to ensure he can acquire another language at the same time.
1945-1949: Student, Ellis Kadoorie AM school
1949-1952: Student, Queen's College
1952-1956: Bachelor of Science in Engineering, University of Hong Kong
1954-1958: Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, University of London
1956: Joined the Territory Development Department as an apprentice engineer
1962: Professional engineer
1962: Master's in Mathematics, University of London
1964: School manager of Carmel English School and in subsequent years manager or supervisor of 12 schools
1965-1966: Master's in Transportation Engineering, Birmingham University, England
1968-1973: PhD in Civil Engineering, University of Hong Kong
1972-1976: Bachelor of Divinity, University of London
1976-1983: Bachelor of Science in Economics, University of London
1982: Principal government engineer
1984-1992: Director of the Territory Development Department
1989-1993: Bachelor of Arts in Western Literature and Humanities, the Open University of Hong Kong
1992: Executive director of Haven of Hope Christian Service
1994-1999: Bachelor of Arts in Chinese Humanities, the Open University of Hong Kong
1994: Started Associate Degree of Science, Open Learning Institute of Vancouver