Free from fear

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2012, 12:00am


A large part of preparing your children to take charge and craft their own destiny involves enrolling them in the right school. As such, many parents are now looking beyond class sizes, academic scores, and facilities. What interests them as much these days are the philosophies and principles that guide the curriculum and the choices available to encourage creativity and develop non-academic traits, such as the ability to lead and take on responsibility.

According to Sai-Kung based writer Chris Davis, the best way to do that is to let children pursue their own interests and worry less about failing. Above all, 'we believe children should be learning that learning is fun', he says, summing up his views and those of his wife, Leonor Daza-Davis. 'Schools and parents should look to create an environment in which children feel safe to question, take risks and get things wrong.'

That is not to advocate wrong answers to maths problems or deny the need to 'hammer in' certain basics at the appropriate age. It simply recognises that educators must focus more on developing enquiring minds and that parents should collaborate actively in the process, explains Davis.

'Both children and parents often associate learning with fear of failure, putting too much emphasis on exam results and academic achievement,' the writer says. 'It would be a huge leap forward if that fear was taken out of the school system.'

His own daughter's learning environment shows how this approach can work. At present, 10-year-old Ocean attends the Sai Kung Central Lee Siu Yam Memorial School, where children are taught in Cantonese, but also in English and Putonghua, languages that Davis says will continue to be of preference in the business world for some time to come. When practical, the school will use interactive class activities such as art, drama, cooking, or model-making to teach not only those languages but also other subjects, such as science.

The aim of interactivity is to generate interest and spontaneity and to create a different dynamic in the classroom where students ask more questions and are more eager to learn. 'We are very happy with it and, more importantly, Ocean is very happy too,' Davis says.

The school also expects and encourages parents to play a full part in their children's academic and social welfare. There is a sense of joint yet separate responsibilities. Homework is assigned and must be done, but the school sees no reason to require children to take on extra-curricular activities.

Nevertheless, Davis has enrolled Ocean in a number of after-school classes on everything from pottery, to art, to hip-hop dance, even taekwondo, which he says has helped her acquire the discipline and confidence to lead and take responsibility, traits that have been further enhanced by the training she receives as a prefect and mentor.

Ocean also attends jewellery-making classes, where she designs and makes her own pieces that she then sells to friends and at charity fairs. Aside from allowing her to engage her creative side, activities like these help boost her confidence, improve her communication skills and, most importantly, enable her to learn how to make decisions and pursue the things that matter to her, explains Davis.

Child psychologist John Shanahan endorses this approach, stressing the importance of close collaboration between schools and parents, and allowing children space and time to know their own minds. 'I've worked with teenagers who don't know how to make a decision,' he says, noting that the best approach involves parents and teachers working together in the manner that allows children to thrive.