What’s the point of Hong Kong end-of-year school assemblies? Quite a lot, as long as they aren’t blown out of proportion
A parent complains their child hasn’t been taught anything new for weeks as his school rehearses for assembly, but as long as they don’t become competitive such events do hold lessons for children, an ex-teacher explains
A Hong Kong parent writes: My son’s primary class has been practising for an end-of-year assembly to perform to the whole school. The rehearsals have gone on for weeks and all teaching seems to have come to a halt. My son is quiet, so he doesn’t have a main part. He knew the songs weeks ago and only has one line to say. He’s lost interest in school and seems to have done very little work in the past few weeks.
Putting together an assembly or any kind of major performance for a whole school audience takes a great deal of time and can cause angst for everyone involved. Whether the results are worth all the effort, possible stress and disruption to normal schooling is questionable.
How much each individual gets out of these experiences depends on the child. Pupils who, like your son, have smaller parts may be uninterested and some may find it challenging or even excruciating to perform in front of their peers. On the other hand, students who love drama and performing may see these assemblies as one of the highlights of the school year and revel in the chance to show off their skills.
Why can’t Hong Kong primary schools teach music properly for pupils who want to learn an instrument?
Learning to speak and perform in front of a large audience and working co-operatively as a group are important skills for your son’s future, both at school and in the workplace. As well as giving less confident or shy children a chance to stretch themselves in this way, these performances give all students a valuable chance to focus on the arts as an integral part of the learning process. Drama, music and dance are subjects that, sadly, seem to have suffered in terms of being allocated time in the curriculum.
Schools perhaps need to make sure these class assemblies are kept in perspective and don’t grow out of all proportion. The danger comes when they turn competitive and teachers feel that such events reflect on them as professionals and feel pressure to make them more and more elaborate.
Performances of all kinds can still be successful when approached in a more low-key fashion and aim simply to show what the children have been learning. This means less repetitive practice and disruption to lessons.
When teachers fully involve the class in the assembly planning process, the students gain a great sense of ownership and pride. Although this approach can be more work for a teacher in terms of co-ordination and ensuring a quality performance, it is usually worth it in the end. A skilful teacher will use the different strengths and talents of class members and their own skills and enthusiasm to guide and inspire the children.
Shared assemblies do give a sense of community to any school as long as they are well organised and interesting. Although you will not be the only parent to question their worth, they are excellent public relations for schools, and parents are able to hear first hand what their children have been learning about.
It is a precious chance to see their child up on stage, however small or large their contribution may be. They also allow older students to be role models, giving the younger pupils something to aspire to, and all children have to learn how to be a good audience by listening carefully and clapping in all the right places.
It could be argued that, just as a child who excels in maths achieves well in a maths lesson, those who have a talent for performing should also be given the chance to shine. One class performance a year could be considered a reasonable expectation.
Although your son is not currently an enthusiast, there will be others in his class who are. Such keen students could still be provided with further opportunities to audition for parts in all-singing, all- dancing drama extravaganzas through a drama club. And you never know, one day your son may join them.
Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary school teacher