Counting stones in the forest or art lessons with leaves: What Hong Kong teachers could learn from three years in Finland

Further details emerge of programme that will see Hong Kong teachers travel to Finland or Australia to learn more about teaching pupils with special needs

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 11:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 August, 2017, 11:13pm

A total of 150 teachers in secondary public schools are expected to benefit from a three-year government programme sending them on a “unique learning experience” in foreign countries, in the hope of improving teaching.

First announced in the chief executive’s policy address this year, the scheme aims to enhance teachers’ development. The government will spend HK$28 million paying for the trips to either Finland or Australia, and hiring substitute teachers to cover them.

Teachers who travel to Finland will learn more about unorthodox teaching methods. Those taking courses in Australia will learn more about teaching pupils with special needs.

Finland’s education system has long been respected as one of the top-ranking systems in the world, despite having lesser assessments and more unorthodox teaching methods.

In Finland, some classes are taught outdoors and taught by combining several disciplines together.

Yung cited one example where Finnish students are taken outside to a nearby forest to learn mathematical theory from counting stones, but also learn about art from drawing leaves.

“Students can learn from their actual environment through an activity, so it differs from the traditional one-way teaching method. I believe it’s worthwhile for teachers to explore the merits of such ways and to see if they can apply in Hong Kong’s context,” he said.

In the first phase of the programme, 35 teachers will take part in university courses and school attachments in the two countries. That will run for eight to nine weeks between April and June next year.

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Only regular full-time teachers serving in government-aided or Direct Subsidy Scheme secondary schools, with at least five years of teaching experience, are eligible to apply.

“The aim is to give teachers a unique learning experience. We hope that they will be able to fulfil three crucial elements – to inquire, inspire and impact – that will bring a fruitful learning journey,” the Education Bureau’s principal assistant secretary in professional development and training Benjamin Yung Po-shu said.

According to official statistics, there are about 22,000 regular, full-time secondary-school teachers across Hong Kong.

One of the principals of an eligible school said he welcomed the initiative, but would prefer to extend the study leave period to one year, instead of a few months.

Lai King Catholic Secondary School principal Ambrose Chong Siu-man said: “I doubt that teachers will be able to get an in-depth learning experience from such a short-term programme.”

He also said that a one-year duration would reduce the impact on teachers and pupils at the school.

But Yung said the bureau would adjust the duration and timing based on feedback from the first batch of participants, adding that the bureau might also include courses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in future.