Citations and Speeches


136th Congregation (1989)

Kathleen Esther BARKER
M.B.E., M.A., J.P.

In the year 2006, St. Stephen's Girls' College will celebrate its centenary year and I have not the slightest doubt that the name of the person who stands before this congregation, who has led that school with such dedication and success for the last twenty-eight years, will feature largely in the centennial celebrations. Writing for the eightieth anniversary of the school in 1986, Kathleen Barker stated:

'The school's traditions of service to others, to the community and to God, are timeless. The form which that service takes may not be the same in different generations but the St. Stephen's Spirit which inspires it will remain unchanged.'

For any institution of learning to be imbued with such a sense of commitment is obviously the result of the many who have created and nurtured it over the decades, but, in particular this evening, we recognise the contribution of Miss Kathleen Esther Barker.

Miss Barker came from a family with mathematical leanings, as both her parents enjoyed the subject, though they were not professional mathematicians. Her father was a firm believer in the importance of a good education and Miss Barker, the youngest of three sisters, went to school at Edgebaston High School for Girls in Birmingham from 1933 to 1946. In her school years Miss Barker had thought of becoming an astronomer, so this, together with her aptitude for the subject led her to specialise in mathematics. She was awarded a scholarship to read for the Mathematics Tripos at Girton College, Cambridge in 1946, and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949.

It was not however to astronomy that Miss Barker then turned, but to teaching, and she moved back to her native city to complete her Post-graduate Certificate in Education in the University of Birmingham, which she did with Distinction in 1951. From there, she was to move yet closer to her home, for she returned as a teacher to her old school in Edgebaston to teach mathematics for a period of five years. The final part of her formal education was at William Temple College in Rugby from 1956 to 1958, where Miss Barker completed the Cambridge Certificate in Religious Knowledge, once again with Distinction. Kathleen Barker had then just entered her third decade, and that year, 1958, was both mathematically and figuratively the end of the first half of her life. Often, in retrospect we see a juxtaposition of events and of people which has fundamentally altered one's path through life. While she was a sixth former, the young Miss Barker had attended a conference run by the Council for Education in World Citizenship in Birmingham. She took part in a debate, advocating, as it now seems with great prescience, that Hong Kong should be returned to China. This was the very first time that Hong Kong touched upon Miss Barker's life but it arose again while at William Temple College. There she met someone very well known in this University, Dr. Bobbie Kotewall, who invited her to come to Hong Kong to teach at St. Paul's Co-educational College. Many at this Congregation will appreciate what Miss Barker means when she said a 'Biblical no' to Dr. Kotewall, yet found herself on the way to Hong Kong in 1958, for Dr. Kotewall is a hard woman to refuse. Originally Kathleen Barker had the intention of staying in Hong Kong for only four years. Fortunately for us these intentions were not to come to fruition. The then Anglican Bishop of Hong Kong, Bishop Hall, for whom Miss Barker had great respect and who she describes as 'a wonderful and saintly man', invited Miss Barker to become the Principal of St. Stephen's College for Girls and she accepted this position in 1961.

1961 was to mark the beginning for Miss Barker of an unbroken record of dedicated service to St. Stephen's and to education in Hong Kong which extends to this very day. Another clergyman, Sydney Smith, at the turn of the nineteenth century wrote:

'The real object of education is to give children resources that will endure as long as life endures; habits that time will ameliorate, not destroy; occupations that will render sickness tolerable, solitude pleasant, age venerable, life more dignified and useful...'.

There are now generations of St. Stephen's alumnae who will bear testimony to Miss Barker's broad vision of what true education is. Her success in fostering an immensely strong team spirit within the School is very apparent. It is a spirit which breathes life into the school motto - 'In faith go forward'. The presence of so many of her colleagues from St. Stephen's here this evening is another witness to her leadership and her constancy of purpose. In the twenty-eight years she has been Principal, the School's curriculum has developed and expanded, but always kept a balance between Arts and Sciences, between Chinese and English. Is it prescience yet again that has resulted in Putonghua being included continuously in the curriculum of St. Stephen's since 1931? At the same time academic standards have been not just maintained but enhanced. Nor has this quest for academic excellence been at the expense of the other subjects which are so important in a balanced and rounded education that does give 'the children resources that will endure'. There is a wide range of extra-curricular activities at St. Stephen's so that students can excel in music, drama, and dance as well as in many different kinds of sports. Miss Barker, herself a stalwart supporter of the Hong Kong Oratorio Society, takes especial satisfaction from the burgeoning of musical activity in the School. When she arrived there in 1961, those students who did study music only played the piano; now-a-days there are both primary and secondary school orchestras.

In the same year that Miss Barker became Principal of St. Stephen's, she also became Chairman of the Council of the Hong Kong School for the Deaf, an office which still holds. This is indicative of her abiding concern for the deaf and for other pupils who suffer from disabilities and handicaps. When the Education Department sought, in the early seventies, to implement a programme which would integrate the education of handicapped and non-handicapped students, it was of course to St. Stephen's and Miss Barker that the Department turned for help. St. Stephen's remains one of the all too few schools to sustain this programme of integration, although Miss Barker would quickly point out that to be successful, such programmes demand adequate resources, planning and the commitment of the whole institution.

Kathleen Barker has almost three decades of achievement behind her in Hong Kong. The mark she has made is not only a personal one, but, vicariously, as it were, she has influenced the community here through her alumnae who have in themselves made their own contributions to society in Hong Kong in many and various ways. The continuing sense of involvement of the alumnae in their old school is particularly apparent in the service they give on the College Council. Notable in its very continuity has been the service of Dr. Ellen Li, presently Vice-Chairman of the School Council. She was in fact the first woman to be appointed to the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, and she has served on the School Council for the last thirty-five years.

There can be so little for Miss Barker to regret, but she will admit to a certain sense of frustration over plans to redevelop the school on its present site. In this only has the resolve of Miss Barker been thwarted. The inability to develop revolves not so much around finance, but on factors which lie outwith even the bounds of her powers of persuasion - a geological fault running right through the school grounds. In addition the Antiquities Board has now declared the Main Building, though not its most important occupant, an Ancient Monument.

The University of Hong Kong now wishes to mark Kathleen Barker's signal contribution to education in Hong Kong. Miss Barker has been a member of the Hong Kong Examinations Authority since 1977, virtually since its inception; she has been Chairman of the Schools Examination Board; and a member of the Education Commission since 1984. Miss Barker was created a Justice of the Peace in 1971 and a Member of the most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1981. I now, Mr. Pro-Chancellor, present Kathleen Esther Barker for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa. I do so with the words of our most recent honorary graduate, Professor Lau Din Cheuk, words which appear in his translation of the second book of Mencius:

'Good government does not win the people as does good education. He who practises good government is feared by the people; he who gives the people good education is loved by them. Good government wins the wealth of the people; good education wins their hearts.'

Citation written and delivered by Professor William Ian Rees Davies, the Public Orator.