This is something I had to do for school. The second entry of our reflections journal. This starts off about Hong Kong in general and my impressions of it and what I’ve done so far, but ends up more to do about the style of education for young children here and how it relates to what I am used to back home. If you aren’t interested in child care, feel free to skip it. I won’t be offended… much.
As soon as I arrived in Hong Kong, I think I fell in love. I knew with as much as I am interested in all things Asian, I would feel this way. I’m not surprised. It was pretty much what I was expecting it to be. Not to say I had any concrete expectations coming here. It’s just the vague picture of what was in my head feels realized somehow. My first impression was that I was in an endless Chinatown. Perhaps having a Chinese extended family and spending time with them out in various Chinatowns did give me an idea of how it could be. But, that seems somewhat ridiculous to me…
Overall, Hong Kong at first seems big, loud, overwhelming to the senses, and completely awesome. We are told that, in fact, it is not that big, but it still seems like it is. We’ve trekked all over and haven’t covered even half of what there is to see. It has the feel of a huge city. The urgency in crowds, the sheer number of people, etc. And like most cities, there are different feelings for various times of the day. As with any other place I’ve been, I like the dead of night when everyone else is asleep and things are dark and quiet. You can explore so much this way. As I keep saying to everyone, I didn’t come here to sleep. Plenty of time for that when I go home. I also love early morning, when things are still somewhat quiet but everyone is starting their day. The people that are around at each of these times are different too. (I love seeing the old ladies doing t’ai chi in the parks on my morning walk to the MTR station.)
The downside, which I do feel like I was prepared for at least, is the heat, bugs, and pushy people. All three are annoying but it’s not the type of thing that would ever sour my liking of a place. Hong Kong is a unique place and, even though I haven’t travelled much, I doubt there is anywhere else like it in the world.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was that sometimes I feel really sad thinking about my mother-in-law. (For those that are unaware, she passed away last month.) She was originally from Hong Kong and I kind of always thought we would travel here together. It seems to hit me at strange moments, like when I’m out at a restaurant for dinner or walking various temple grounds. I suppose it’s natural.
The first week was amazing. I have never packed so much into so little time. As soon as we landed, we began “adventuring”. Our first night was pretty much just getting settled in our respective rooms and walking around Tai Kok Tsui (our neighbourhood). The second day, we ventured a little further and went shopping in Mong Kok. Day 3 was exploring the Peak, Wong Tai Sin temple, Chi Lin Nunnery and Gardens, and the Hong Kong Museum of History, finishing with dinner with the LHK staff at the Cricket Club. Day 4, we went to Macau and wandered around a really cool temple called A-Ma (which was built into a huge rock) and day 5 we went to the Big Buddha. On day 6, we went on a tour of the LHK campuses and then my roommates and I went on an epic mission to find a Pizza Hut that we had been craving since others had brought it up a few days earlier. Day 7, 8, and 9 were spent with the kids at LHK. And today, we went to an island called Cheung Chau to see the Bun Festival. (All of this will be explained in detail on my blog, day by day.)
It’s hard to say exactly what it is that I have learned about the people and culture of Hong Kong. I feel that my existing knowledge has been reinforced throughout my first week. I knew that education and academic success was highly valued in this culture, and that has definitely been apparent. The fact that two and three-year-olds are speaking three languages and reading already is a reflection of that value. It is also interesting to me to note that the culture seems to put the collective ahead of the individual. It shows even in the lack of what in Canada we would consider manners. People here are pushy and cut in front of you in line, bump into you, step on your feet, etc. and they hardly ever say sorry or excuse themselves or any of the other things we think of as considerate. It was explained to us that this is because there are so many people here that it is never expected because it is inevitable for those things to happen. It may not be how I conduct myself personally but I don’t judge others for not behaving that way. You can’t really be mad at people for not valuing the same things you do. And maybe I appreciate it even more when they do go out of their way to apologize.
My first impressions of LHK specifically can be summed up as “wow”. I know most of (if not all) of the group I am travelling with prefer the child-directed approach to learning. In school, we were taught about the benefits of that style and not so much for the teacher-directed methods. In Canada (western countries, in general), we highly regard freedom, choice, and independence. Here, it is more necessary to mold children into the citizens that will eventually comprise this society. The job market here (not just Hong Kong, but East Asia in general) is highly competitive and demanding. Preparation for their lifestyle must begin very early in life in order for individuals to become successful. Parents have high expectations of the schools their children attend. They rely on the school to prepare their children for the next stage of their education. The teacher-directed, academic focused style makes sense for this culture. And the benefits are apparent. I can see the pros and cons of both different ways of educating young children. In my own future practice, I would like to take the aspects of each and use them in working with kids. Although many of my “classmates” have claimed strong opinions about LHK’s methods, I am not here to judge or assess them. I am here to learn. And it’s fascinating. I think a parent of a Canadian child would freak out if there were lines on the floor that the children had to follow when lining up and walking through the halls. Here, it just makes sense (and you have to admit, it’s really cute). The way the teachers speak to the children may come across as harsh, but it also reinforces their expectations of the child and lets him/her know exactly what the desired behaviour is. There is something to be said of the western way of encouraging children to problem solve and think for themselves but there is also the benefit of scholarly success. I am in a pre-nursery classroom at LHK (what we would call toddlers at home), but they conduct themselves more like the older preschool children at home (Kindergarten or JK). When I taught in a toddler class in Canada, the classroom was chaotic. The discipline and consistency that leads to behaviour modification and measureable results was not there. (This could be just the location I taught in, but speaking to others, it seems a consistent observation.) At LHK, they are like a well-oiled machine. Watching the children at snack time is a perfect example. When they finish eating, they take their bowls and forks to the cart and put them away in the right place. Then return to their seat, take out a cloth from their school bags and wipe their hands and mouth, then place it back in a container in their bags along with the drinking cup they used, and replace their bags in the cubbies. All without any prompting. I find that toddlers in Canada go to child care to “be looked after” (ie. babysitting). It may be with a focus on encouraging development but it is a natural type of development that would likely happen whether they attended the child care centre or not. (The potential of the child may be more fully realized. Maybe not. It depends on the quality of the centre.) At LHK, the children attend to learn. It is not for being looked after. They could stay home with their nanny for that. It is a school. The things they learn there are things they will not learn outside of that environment.
Of course, they are still children. The similarities between Canadian children and children in Hong Kong are the same as they would be anywhere in the world. They cry when they are upset. They get tired. Their attention span is not endless. They like to play and have fun. They are naturally curious. Etc.
When it comes to my own interactions with the children at LHK, I have to use different strategies than I would at home. Of course, my core nature will not (cannot) change. I can’t act in a way that does not come naturally. Thankfully for this experience, my personality suits the environment. I think my attitude helps me as well. I am not approaching this with a negative view of their methods. I came here knowing things would be different and am open to learning about the strategies the teachers here use and their benefits. So far, I haven’t acted any differently than I would at home. It is not my style to just jump right in and be engaging with the children right away. I appreciate that we were given three full days to observe. I feel that my interactions are inauthentic when I rush into things. It feels forced and I think the children respond to that. When I deal with children, I have more of a quiet nature than a lot of my classmates did. It never seemed to be a detriment to my relationships with children and it doesn’t now. Most children seem to like me and I believe it is because they can feel the sincerity and caring in my approach. It has never been something I had to think about though. It is just how I am.
So, that will not change. What I will have to be mindful of here is the actual way I have of speaking. Since English is a second language to the children and the range of understanding is quite varied, I have to be more aware of the things I say. For instance, I realized I was saying “yeah” instead of “yes” and using a lot of contractions and not annunciating properly. This could get in the way of being understood.
Since it has only been three days so far, I don’t know what else I will have to modify. For the most part, I will try to model the behaviour of the classroom teachers. The teacher-directed way of leading activities actually comes more naturally to me than what I was taught to do in school. Maybe this is because I am older than my classmates and grew up with those kinds of teachers myself. Or maybe it’s just part of my personality. I like structure and details.
For the upcoming week, I would like to focus on individual interactions with the children. When I spoke to my other fellow travellers, they all said they had been doing this right from the beginning, some even leading activities already. I felt really bad. Doing that went against my nature to sit back and acclimate first. When I observe, I actually observe. I sit and watch, listen, and absorb. I like to know the children’s names and get a feel for their personalities before I interact with them. Just like how some children need time to warm up to you, I need to feel comfortable with them too. I used the first three days to do that. (By the way, between the morning and afternoon classes, there are 56 children in pre-nursery. I know mostly all of their names and have a grasp on many of their personalities as well.) Not to say I didn’t interact at all, but I didn’t force myself to make conversation when it felt unnatural.
The other thing I want to focus on is being more verbal with my co-operating teacher. I always ask what to do if I have a question and I tried to ask for general feedback as well, but there was not a lot of information shared between us beyond what was asked. Two reserved personalities, I think.
These two things are, of course, on top of the five activities that I have to implement. Nerve-wracking, to say the least.
(originally posted to ngohheuiheunggong)