Hong Kong's overzealous parents may be hampering their kids, says expert

Expert warns that forcing children to learn extracurricular skills to help them get into elite schools may harm their personal development

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 4:54am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 November, 2013, 4:54am

Forcing children to learn will not improve their development or raise their chances of getting into elite schools, an educator at an international school has warned.

Hong Kong parents like to fill their children's schedules each day with extracurricular lessons, such as piano, swimming and painting.

Parents hope the additional skills will help their children stand out in admissions interviews for the top schools.

"It's good to expose your child to possibilities but it's not good to keep pushing them to try things," said Professor Deborah Eyre, education director of Nord Anglia Education, which opens an international school in Lam Tin in September. "You also want children to think, reflect and develop themselves as individuals.

"We value what parents do. We know that they're trying to do the best for their child. But what's important is that children come to school loving learning and wanting to learn," Eyre said.

It has been reported that some parents enrol their children in two kindergartens - an English-language one in the morning and another one in Chinese in the afternoon - in the hope of increasing their child's chances of winning a place at a prestigious international primary school. Eyre said she would not do it with her own children.

"For a young child, it's important to have good education but it's also important that they have more informal learning which they do with their family," Eyre said. "If you want your child to have a good vocabulary, you can read and talk to your child. They will learn better with you than they would in a kindergarten."

Eyre, a former director of the UK government's academy for gifted youth, offered the example of Scandinavian countries such as Norway, where children do not formally take part in reading or writing until the age of seven. Rather than negatively affecting their development, it helped them get to know the world.

"Internationally, [the educator's role is to] introduce some formal learning but also to value play and discovery with young children who are trying to understand the world around them," she said. "We need to help them to discover for themselves.

"It is also what teachers of young children in our schools believe in strongly."