Projects beneficial despite the extra work

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 November, 2012, 10:09am

My daughter is in secondary school. Besides lots of homework, she also has to do projects for various subjects. It is all so time-consuming that she has to work late into the evening on school nights. Sometimes, I have to help her finish them at midnight. I don't see why Hong Kong's education system gives children such a heavy workload.

In 2001, the Education Bureau introduced projects to allow students to learn from practical experience. It is believed that in this way students can have a firmer grasp of the knowledge involved. A project is usually done by a group of students, and in this way, they can learn from one another. The Education Bureau stresses this can enhance the "collaboration skills" of students as they learn.

How projects are organised for the students depends on the individual school. Some schools will have a teacher working as a co-ordinator who sets up a timetable for different subjects to make sure students don't have to work on more than one project at a time in the school year. Some schools may even arrange only one or two cross-curricular projects across different subjects.

I would recommend that you check with the school on how it arranges project learning activities as well as its homework policy. You can find out how many projects the students need to complete in the school year and whether there is a reasonable timetable for these projects. Are they individual or done in groups? If it involves group work, do the students have a reasonable amount of time to discuss the contents of the project before the deadline? What are the educational aims of these projects?

You should also check with the teachers how much homework is expected per week for individual subjects and also what the aim of different types of homework is.

Try to work with the school rather than just complain. The goal for everyone is for your daughter to progress academically. You mentioned you had helped her until midnight to finish her project. It is understandable that parents do not want their children to be sleep-deprived. However, having a parent helping contradicts the aim of project learning, which is that the students discover and learn from their own practical experience. Even if a student cannot finish the project, the work itself is worthwhile. Help from a parent may disturb this process and is not encouraged.

It is also understandable that these projects are graded and the scores will affect the student's academic results. But even though help from parents is discouraged because it will deprive students of the experience of learning by themselves, it's always a positive activity if children can discuss with their parents what the project consists of and how they plan to tackle it. In that way, the parents show an interest and are involved in the children's learning process, which can only be seen as positive and valuable.

Dr Terry Lam teaches at a local secondary school