Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Extreme Education

Are we allowing kids in Hong Kong to discover the love of learning?
On Saturday I attended a TEDxHongKongED event focusing on education, but not just traditional learning in schools, but also creativity and innovation.

Two women with experience in the school system, Karin Ann, founder and principal of International Montessori School and Judy Tsui, formerly chair professor of accounting at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, talked about the need for students to learn at their own pace.

Ann in particular stressed her school does not take creativity away from children but nurtures it. Tsui expressed concerns about young children going to summer school to get a preview of what they will be learning in September.

Parents think this is a good way to prepare the children so that they will perform better academically, but Tsui says this does the opposite and breeds insecurity and diminishes the love of learning.

This is not only happening to children in secondary and elementary schools, but also those who are barely out of their diapers and expected to go to "MBA school'. It's all gotten out of hand, Tsui says and now there are stats to prove it.

Wofoo Social Enterprises has conducted a study that has found children are stressed out by academic pressure even before they start primary school. Some 65 percent of the 683 parents contacted said their children, aged four or five, were feeling pressure in the move from kindergarten to primary school.

In order to increase their chances of attending an elite school, the parents send their kids to many different after-school classes from swimming and piano to painting and singing. Many kids have some kind of activity everyday -- including weekends.

This means there's little time afterwards for kids to play, as 70 percent of parents admitted they allowed their children two hours or less of play every day, while 30 percent gave them an hour or less to play.

Seventy-six percent of parents felt competition was keener these days and so their children had to study harder than when they were younger. And 17 percent thought of moving their family overseas or sending their children to international schools because of the stress of the current education system.

"Some parents think teachers and principals at primary schools love children who are very knowledgeable," said Fung Pik-yee, principal of Aplichau Kaifong Primary School. "But sometimes it's just because some parents are too tensed up over their children's Primary One school places allocation. No primary schools want children to know everything because they come to school to study."

Both Ann and Tsui are horrified that young children are so overworked that they do not love learning anymore, which may explain why Hong Kong hasn't had much innovation let alone creativity these days.

These educators are urging parents to stop the madness and let their children develop naturally -- in particular their curiosity. That definitely does not happen from going from one class to another everyday with hardly any breaks.

Parents know what they are doing is not good for their children, but they are too scared to "lose out". They feel trapped in a rat race, that if they take their children out of a class or classes that they feel guilty not having done enough for them to get ahead.

Is that what education is all about in Hong Kong?

There needs to be a complete revamp of the system otherwise more and more children are going to not only hate learning, but their parents too for putting them through such a rigorous period in their formative years. Perhaps they will start a class action lawsuit suing for their loss of childhood?


  1. I very much agree with this, and it's one of the main reasons why we plan to move back to the UK before our children start school. I think there are definite pros to the education system here, I think students are more diligent and have a more positive attitude towards their education whereas in the UK many students don't value their education at all. But at the same time there is much less pressure and more free thinking... and it doesn't seem to have done me any harm!

    1. HI littlekoo -- Yes my greatest concern is that children growing up in the system here have lost their childhood and have no interest in learning. Once you lose that, how can you grow as a person and professional if you don't want to constantly improve yourself? Perhaps that explains the passiveness and lack of motivation in young people here? Of course it's a generalization but see this in many young colleagues at work...