After some singing, the more than 100 Primary Five and Six pupils seated in the assembly hall fell silent as they watched a video about the dismal conditions in schools in rural China, shot by the international humanitarian organisation World Vision. On the screen were dimly-lit classrooms in near-derelict schools with broken windows and smashed light bulbs attended by ethnic minority children in Yunnan province. The students were shown eating food consisting of bowls of rice and little else. For many of the young audience, pupils of the Lok Sin Tong Chan Cho Chak Primary School in Sha Tin, it was the first time they had seen such grim conditions - a stark contrast to the spacious, comfortable surroundings in their own school. The purpose of the assembly was to increase their awareness of the underprivileged and to help them learn to appreciate what they had. It was part of the school's effort to instil in pupils positive values in line with the Education and Manpower Bureau's goal for all primary schools to begin personal growth education from this academic year. Before they were dispersed, the pupils at Lok Sin Tong school shared packets of dried seaweed. It was likely to be the only thing they would eat in the next few hours as they had been asked to skip lunch to have a taste of the deprivation faced by many around the world. This is the second year the school has carried out the drive for personal growth, adopting a teaching resource package produced by the Religious Education Resource Centre, run by Sheng Kung Hui, the education arm of the Anglican church. The new teaching materials are built upon themes including self-management, self-acceptance, respect for others, communication skills, and resolving conflict. Each of the topics has been addressed during the school's morning assembly. Teachers have also organised activities or discussions surrounding a topic once a week with pupils in their own class. Principal Mark Lau Wai-ming is convinced of the need to promote positive values among pupils, including a strong belief in themselves. The need for such training had become more acute because many working parents had little time to spend with their children, he said. 'Some of our pupils have shown behavioural problems,' Mr Lau said. 'They come from low-income families and are given little care and attention at home. We had been thinking about how to make them view themselves as valuable. If they do not feel useful, they will have problems managing their own emotions. As a result, it will make it more difficult for them to learn anything.' Mr Lau said his vision was for all of his pupils to go on a life-skill training camp before their graduation. His other hope was to set up a rock-climbing wall in the school to toughen their spirit. The training in perseverance was much needed across schools in Hong Kong, he said. While there were many who received little attention at home, a great number had led sheltered lives and not been given many chances to learn to be responsible for themselves. 'The quality of care given by parents has deteriorated. The television has taken away much of the time family members could have spent together,' he said. 'Some parents provide their children with many material possessions but not what they need the most, which is time and attention.' His school is one of the 100 primary schools that have adopted the curriculum and teaching materials created by the Religious Education Resource Centre. Dr Yeung Kwok-keung, a research fellow at the centre, said its curriculum guidelines were influenced by the model of life education in Taiwan. They supplemented the EMB's general guidelines on personal growth education. 'Our guidelines allow schools to cover various themes in a systematic manner,' Dr Yeung said. 'Pupils need to learn how to deal with pressure, face up to failure or resolve various problems. Society has become more complicated than before. Even if you work hard, you may not be able to find a job.' At the SKH Ka Fuk Wing Chun Primary School, another school that has adopted the centre's materials, pupils have focused on the themes of honesty and integrity this year, hearing special addresses during morning assembly and having follow-up discussions in class. 'We adopted the package because it would be too much work for teachers to design their own materials,' principal Belinda Cheuk Siu-may said. 'Having the curriculum also helps promote the atmosphere of personal growth in our school. It is a useful tool.' She said more needed to be done by schools not just to cultivate positive attitudes among pupils but to broaden their perspectives. 'If you ask pupils why they study hard, they would say they want to get a good job and have a good family in the future. Few would mention contributing to society,' Ms Cheuk said. 'They will look more at personal gains. And this reflects their values. We should teach them to look at a broader picture, not just themselves.' She is an advocate of similar training at secondary schools, but with greater flexibility and giving pupils room to implement the concepts they have picked up in primary years. Enhancing children's emotional development is also the goal of a programme launched jointly by the Hong Kong Institute of Education with a $3.56 million donation from the Hong Kong Bank Foundation last year. Developed by British charity Partnership for Children, Zippy's Friends is based on stories about a stick insect and a group of children who face everyday difficulties, from bullying to making and keeping friends, loneliness and death. Supported by activities such as drawing, role playing and games, the colourful stories are aimed at fostering children's capacities to deal with adversity in their lives. Hong Kong lacked systematic programmes designed to enhance children's emotional and social well-being, said HKIEd president Paul Morris. Those areas had been overlooked by parents who instead emphasised their children's physical, linguistic and cognitive capacities for surviving in a highly competitive education system. HKIEd has translated the programme's teaching materials and is now piloting them in 20 kindergartens and primary schools, targeting children aged five to seven. More than 600 teachers have participated in the first training workshops. The institute is expecting at least 10,000 children from more than 640 kindergartens and primary schools to have benefited from Zippy's Friends by the end of 2009. The programme is currently running in nine countries, including Brazil, England, Canada and India.