Well-balanced children need work and play
Parents want the best for their children and it is therefore understandable that many in Hong Kong feel the need to instil in their offspring a passion for learning. Education is widely seen, after all, as a pathway to prosperity and happiness.
Whether wealth and happiness are one and the same is a hotly debated point. There is no doubt, though, that students with the best school marks get first choice when it comes to universities and courses, and supposedly, if they maintain their academic form, are in line for the pick of jobs when they graduate.
It is hardly surprising therefore that a survey shows that more than 70 per cent of parents questioned believed their children's main activity out of school hours should be academically inclined. Revising homework was seen by six of every 10 parents as the best pastime, while 10 per cent preferred their children to read books. Only 11 per cent thought taking time out for a one-on-one chat was the most important activity, while hobbies and sports ranked low on the list.
This is a worrying revelation and the consequences are clearly borne out by the lack of laughter and smiles among the children on our streets. Generally, they have intense looks on their faces as they rush from school, presumably to the tutorials lined up by their parents.
There is nothing wrong with raising children to be successful by having them embrace learning. Limiting the time they spend watching television or playing computer games and rewarding them for reading books is to be encouraged. Sitting down as a family to go through a report card and to set goals for improvement shows a sense of caring and provides valuable input.
But children need more than study to develop into well-rounded adults. They must have time with their friends beyond an online chat room; physical activities such as sports or hiking are essential to ward off obesity; hobbies keep minds active and engender interest in matters non-academic; and for the sake of family relationships, parents must find time for a chat to get to know their offspring.
Hong Kong is not an easy environment in which to allow this to happen. Parks and playgrounds are limited in number, size and facilities; the high population density makes pastimes taken for granted in other affluent societies, such as bicycle riding, out of the question in many places; costs often make activities a once-in-a-while treat; long working hours and cramped living conditions can make family interaction less than perfect.
But the government has recognised the need for change and, since last year, has been phasing out the rote learning method of teaching. Improving lifestyles by providing more and better public and living spaces is now seen as an essential part of our city's development.
Similarly, parents need to recognise that their children need a balance between school work and time to themselves and with their family and friends. Education alone is not a guarantee of professional success or happiness.