Teenagers confused by mass media, fathers and mothers who spend more time at work than with their children or the elderly facing the prospect of death. These all fall within the domain of life education - something some experts say Hong Kong needs. Complementing what people normally associate with the traditional aims of schooling, life education revolves around reflecting on one's relationships. In Hong Kong, it has been given a boost with the opening of a new life education centre. The idea is that, rather than giving people hard facts and telling them what they should be doing in their lives, life education encourages them to think about why they do things and to seek out the most meaningful path. 'Life education is about building up students' life values and attitudes, without which it is very difficult for them to develop a positive life orientation,' said Cheung Wing-hung, chief curriculum development officer (moral and civic education) at the Education Bureau. Mr Cheung noted that life education had become increasingly important in Hong Kong because the traditional methods of giving young people values - through the family or religion - were being challenged. In response, the school system has upped its emphasis on life education. Its beginnings can be traced back to 1981, with the issuing of the landmark General Guidelines on Moral Education in Schools. Then, in 2001, life education was given a coherent framework focused on values. Conducted under the greater umbrella topic of moral and civic education, it spelled out the values that primary and secondary schools would aim to imbue into students: love, self-esteem, respect, enthusiasm and optimism. This approach is critical because it helps students establish a reliable moral compass, according to Mr Cheung. This would guide them to make suitable choices when encountering issues such as drug abuse, peer pressure, teenage pregnancy, gambling, alcoholism and workaholism. Within this framework, life education had the aim of helping students understand, appreciate, respect and explore life. Eschewing the teaching of more abstract concepts such as the meaning of life, it advocated an approach based on personal development and healthy living within families, schools, society, communities and the workplace. Schools were given autonomy in how they went about teaching the subject, but an interactive approach was encouraged, such as participation in community service and voluntary work, rather than traditional pen-and-paper classroom work. Last year, an interim review outlined learning expectations for each of the four key stages in the education cycle, segmented into early and late primary and secondary school years. Kevin Kung, a Form Seven science student at Ying Wa College in Sham Shui Po, said he thought life education was as important as the academic aspects of schooling. In his school, life education is usually carried out through discussions with teachers before classes start each day. The school also organises speakers, from social workers to celebrities, to talk about their experiences during morning assemblies. 'When we are learning it, it doesn't feel that useful, and it can be quite boring just listening to people just talking about it but I think life education helps you develop a side of you that needs to be developed at an early age,' he said. 'Take, for instance, people who go on the internet and make abusive comments on forums and chat rooms. If they accepted the teachings of life education, they wouldn't do that because they would understand the need to respect others.' However, Josephine Lee, senior manager for corporate venture (partnership and alliance) at St James' Settlement, said that life education was inadequate in preparing young people to make the best choices. 'In the past, life was simple. Nowadays, there are many more choices - people don't know how to decide and parents don't give enough guidance,' she said. 'Parents focus their time on their careers, give their teaching role to teachers and expect that schools will give their children an all-round education. That's very difficult when you have just a couple of lessons a week on moral education.' This is one of the reasons her organisation recently launched Hong Kong's first life education centre, Ark Life Education House. Located in Ma Wan as part of Sun Hung Kai Properties' Noah's Ark theme park, the 8,000 sqft centre was launched last month and opened to the ticket-buying public on Monday. Divided into sections reflecting the four fundamental facets of life - the self and its relationship with others, society and the world - the centre has interactive exhibits and seeks to supplement the life education curriculum through the use of diverse media. Ms Lee said the charity had to tread a fine line between education and entertainment in its design of the centre, balancing the needs of parents, teachers and students. 'We want to put a seed in the soil and then let it grow. We don't expect people to learn a great deal here in the centre but hopefully they will come away with new ideas that they will think about and discuss with other members of their family,' she said.