Children in Hong Kong Suffering from Their Nightmares

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As an exchange student in Hong Kong, I see many of my friends tutoring as there are high requests from Hong Kong parents to tutor their children. When I ask my friends about the age range of the children, I was shocked to hear that most of them are three year old to eight year old. If I recall my three year old memories — which I can’t but possibly I must have been having the best time of my life by eating, sleeping and playing. Why is Hong Kong so obsessed with its education and will this lead to any problems in the near future?


Current Status

There was one time I had a nightmare about school. The teacher said “You behaved so badly today, your day will start at 7 a.m and end in 7 p.m.”


We were all like “ahhh” and the teacher was like “What do you mean by ‘ahhh’? You guys want more? Let’s add another 15 hours.” The whole thing became a loop, and we ended up staying in school for three days. I was so sad and scared. Then my domestic helper woke me up saying “It’s time to go to school.”

From an interview with Javis, an 8-year-old student in Hong Kong, it is quite evident that he is under extreme pressure from his primary education.


“I hate school as it’s just a process of endless learning,” said Javis, an 8-year-old student in Hong Kong.


Everyday he has 8 to 9 homework assignments, and about 12 on Fridays. After school he still has two more hours of tutorial classes. “I am almost dead by then,” Javis sighed. Not forgetting to mention about the extra assignments he has for the tutorials.


Shocking as it seems, this is not the tragedy that only Javis is going through. According to the survey that was conducted by 116 primary schools by Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service, it was revealed that 68 % of the school arranged 40 minutes for recess while 74% allocated less than 50 minutes for lunch. This result shows the bitter environment of primary schools as both are below the Education Bureau’s recommendation of two 20-minute recesses and a long lunch time that is an hour long.


Why is this happening?

Certainly we cannot define the underlying cause of the problem of this devilish education system into one sentence. However, it is hard to ignore the fact that Hong Kong’s education system is based on the exam-oriented culture.


The Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) is an assessment by the government targeted towards key stages 1-3 to measure students’ basic competencies in Chinese language, English language and Mathematics. The initial purpose of this exam is to help schools and teachers to engage in building up their learning and teaching by providing information about students’ results of the exam. However, it seems that this initial purpose is already gone with the wind. From the current status, schools seem to forget the real meaning of ‘education’ as they redefined education as teaching students the skills of how to do ‘well’ on their mock TSA questions. Excessive drilling has became the reality of the definition of education. While it is prominent that TSA underlies as the cause of the problem of Hong Kong’s education system, it cannot be solely responsible for this education crime. Even if the TSA problem is solved, Pre-Secondary One Hong Kong Attainment Test and HKDSE remains. From this, we can see that the test itself is not the root problem of this education system but the people and the society that emphasizes the results of the grades of these exams are.


The pressure of gaining the best grade is real. There is the Chinese “tiger mum” archetype, which the parents push their children to do their best in their academic fields. According to a study in Chinese University, it was revealed that one in three Hong Kong adults argued that children should be competent and schooled to  “win at the starting line” from an early age. Interestingly, 77% of them also believed that it was appropriate to nurture children by providing them with space and freedom.


What does this result tells us? Are Hong Kong parents two-faced? This result simply shows that students have no choice but to get good grades on their university entrance exams, as this directly relates to the limited number of jobs in the future. Therefore, regardless of the fact that parents acknowledge the downfalls of excessive education, they have to keep pushing their children for their guaranteed-shining-future.


What will this lead to?

The immediate visible concern would be the health of students. The number of children in Hong Kong who are stressed out and unhappy is rapidly increasing. The government reported that the number of children who is going through mental health problems has been increasing as fast as 5 percent annually. They assume that the cause originates from the intense examinations-based education system and high family expectations.


Furthermore, some people believe that the education system in Hong Kong is failing to train students to be prepared for their future. It is clear that the current education system rewards the one who does well in exams and criticizes the others who fail to do so. In other words, this indicates the fact that the capacity of good memorization and performance in exams is required for your success in life. However, economists claim that in the near future, 47% percent of the jobs will be replaced by advanced technology and such capacity that was mentioned earlier will not be required anymore. Instead, intelligence that cannot be replaced by technology such as, creativity, strong communication skills and critical thinking will be more crucial than ever.


Along with the health problems that the education system is causing, it is quite evident that the current education system is leading students and young children to the wrong path.


It may be the time for Hong Kong to cast doubt on the flaws of the current education system and to find the solutions to this beast that is torturing children with nightmares.

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