A Hong Kong businesswoman and her Italian husband have opened the city’s first international school using Italian-based educational techniques that eschew rote learning. The Reggio Emilia approach is an educational philosophy that allows children to learn and explore at their own pace, with teachers acting as partners in the process. Pauline Ngai Chiu-fung, co-founder of the Italian International Kindergarten, said children would learn by doing and experiencing, unlike in the local education system which she went through herself, and which is often criticised for working pupils too hard and being too focused on grades. The school will take in children from pre-nursery to kindergarten three. Located at South Horizons in Ap Lei Chau, the school will open in September, and so far at least 100 children have enrolled, most of them Italian. Classes will be held in Italian and English, with some lessons in English and Mandarin as well. The kindergarten charges HK$71,500 (US$9,100) for a half-day programme and HK$110,000 for full-day pupils. The school is accredited by the Reggio Children Foundation to adapt and offer the organisation’s learning approach. It is looking for at least 20 teachers fluent in Italian, English or Chinese. Explaining how the kindergarten will do things differently, school manager Giulia Ziggiotti said: “Let’s say we want to teach the children maths, we would start by showing them a piece of art by Picasso and asking them what kind of geometrical shapes they can find in the painting. From there, we start a conversation about the general concept of maths – which would lead us to counting and different shapes.” The Hong Kong school that lets children decide what questions should go in their exams Franco Cutrupia, Ngai’s husband and co-founder of the kindergarten, said the school would encourage children to express themselves freely in different ways. “We want children in Hong Kong, not just Italians but locals too, to learn in a pleasant environment and have a good relationship with the teachers and enjoy being in their presence,” he said. The latest official data shows there were 1,569 Italians living in Hong Kong in 2016, more than double the number 13 years earlier. An early childhood expert familiar with the Reggio Emilia approach was positive about the educational philosophy of the new school, but advised Hong Kong parents to consider how their children would switch from a kindergarten using the Italian approach to a local school. Giving children control over their learning Maggie Koong May-kay, who taught the approach to other educators for nearly five years at a local university, said: “There are always going to be transitional concerns, whether your children will be able to find a primary school or secondary school that upholds the same teaching methods.” She urged parents to understand the Italian approach and ensure their children were suitable for it, because Italy and Hong Kong had different education systems and environments.