Generation 40s – 四十世代

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Should Hong Kong ban spanking of children at home as well as in school?

CommentInsight & Opinion
Yonden Lhatoo looks at how France has made corporal punishment of children illegal and compares it with Hong Kong, which is unlikely to make such a move

Buried under the daily barrage of bad news, there was a recent report that did not resonate much in this part of the world but I found it quite intriguing, nonetheless: you’re officially no longer allowed  to spank your children in France.

The fine print took some of the gee whiz out of the news, as it turns out that France is only the 52nd country in the world to take such a step. Sweden is quantum leaps ahead of everyone, having started in 1979.

Also, bear in mind that the new law in France is more symbolic than draconian, as offenders will not face criminal punishment. That’s in a country where 85 per cent of parents smack their children and are likely to carry on doing it, although a tad more discreetly from now on, perhaps.

What about Hong Kong? Just the other day, I watched another exemplar of the eternal conflict between misbehaving child and frustrated parent play out in a shopping mall. “Just wait until we get home,” the mother warned as her little princeling shook the rafters with a thunderous tantrum over some abruptly cancelled visit to Toys ‘R’ Us.

It reminded me of “somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad”, the trademark quote that Indian Canadian comedian Russell Peters attributes to his father in his classic stand-up routine on parenting.

Peters jokingly recalls his father’s response when threatened with a phone call to Children’s Aid for beating his kid: “I might get into a little bit of trouble, but I know that it’s going to take them 23 minutes to get here. In that time, somebody gonna get a-hurt real bad!”

Not many children are getting “a-hurt real bad” by their parents in Hong Kong, where the English common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” applies, and corporal punishment at home is allowed. But a 2015 survey found that about half of the city’s children, aged six to 13, were physically disciplined by their parents, who used bare hands as well as handy implements like clothes hangers and rulers to inflict punitive pain.

Our city has banned corporal punishment in schools since 1991, but resisted calls by concern groups to extend the ban to homes. That’s unlikely to change, as Hong Kong is a traditional society on the whole and the conservative mindset prevails in such matters.

I tend to agree with the school ban. With all due respect to decent teachers, it’s totally understandable that most parents don’t and won’t trust strangers, qualified or not, to lay hands on their children.

Most of the teachers during my own schooldays were decent educators, but I haven’t forgotten a few who went beyond the usual ruler rap on the knuckles to what would only be described as criminal assault these days. They would be behind bars if they did that now, for sure. The philosophy of “spare the rod and save the child” does not entail crippling the child with said rod.

A study last year by the American Journal of Family Psychology analysed five decades of research involving more than 160,000 children to conclude that the more we spank our kids, the more likely they are to defy us. They’re also more prone to antisocial behaviour, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, apparently.

Like many of my friends and contemporaries, I wasn’t spared the rod myself growing up, both at home and school, but we like to look back and think it made us a little broader-shouldered and thicker-skinned than Generation Snowflake these days.

After all, as Immanuel Kant once said, “Man must be disciplined, for he is by nature raw and wild.”

Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post

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Free kindergarten education in Hong Kong is a welcome step towards language equality in class

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Alfred Chan

Alfred Chan says new policy support will strike at practices that discriminate against ethnic minority students, but government monitoring is needed

Since taking up the chairmanship of the Equal Opportunities Commission in April, I have emphasised my commitment to advancing equal opportunities for marginalised and underprivileged groups in society. One such group is ethnic minorities. Of particular concern are their education and employment opportunities. I recently heard the case of a Pakistani mother who went to a local kindergarten to get an admission form for her son. She spoke to a staff member through the intercom from outside the gate. After checking if either parent spoke Cantonese, which they did not, the staff member declined to give her a form. Unfortunately, her story is not unique. Many ethnic minority parents have to knock on several kindergarten doors before finding a place.

Education Bureau figures for 2015-16 show that 44 per cent of kindergartens do not have non-Chinese-speaking students, while ethnic minority students are concentrated in a small number of kindergartens where the environment is less conducive to Chinese learning. We have been notified that more than a few practise one of several measures that prevent ethnic minority students from enjoying access to equal education opportunities. Some reportedly flatly refuse to admit ethnic minority children. Others choose to conduct interviews for applicants only in Cantonese or provide information exclusively in Chinese. Not only is this tarnishing Hong Kong’s image as a diverse, inclusive society, but the act may also be unlawful.

We have called on kindergartens to be open and inclusive in their admissions. Recently, we launched a booklet for schools, parents and students on promoting racial integration and preventing racial discrimination in schools. It provides essential guidelines, besides examples and suggestions, on the application of the Race Discrimination Ordinance in schools, particularly in the areas of language requirements in admissions, exercise of school rules with respect to religious practices and communication with ethnic minority parents.

Kindergartens justify their admission decision by citing the unavailability of language support for non-Chinese-speaking students in their schools. We don’t expect this justification to be valid for long. The government announced in the policy address the extension of the current 12 years of free education to 15 years, by introducing free kindergarten education from the 2017-18 academic year. We welcome the move.

Of particular interest to us is that the policy of free kindergarten education also includes support for children with diverse needs, which includes non-Chinese speakers and children with special educational needs. We believe both categories would benefit from the additional support. Non-Chinese speakers will gain substantially from any scheme that encourages kindergartens to integrate them into classes with their Chinese peers. As scholars point out, an integrated classroom has many benefits, including language acquisition. This is a significant benefit, especially given the dire state of Chinese language learning among non-Chinese-speaking students.

The Education Bureau should carefully monitor the implementation of the new policy to ensure fair admissions and adequate support for Chinese language learning, so more mainstream kindergartens are encouraged to admit non-Chinese speakers. It should also keep an eye out for inadvertent reverse segregation that may result. Some kindergartens might choose to take in more ethnic minority students due to the additional funding, which may lead to a rising concentration of non-Chinese-speaking students, again creating a ”segregated” environment.

An immersed classroom supported by additional language learning measures is expected to lead to non-Chinese speakers “mainstreaming” early in their school lives, thereby having a greater possibility of being on a par with their Chinese peers at the end of 15 years. That ideally should lead to a levelling of the playing field when it comes to access to higher education and finally employment. That will be the true test of whether Hong Kong actually lives up to its promise of providing equal opportunities to all, regardless of race, language or colour.

Professor Alfred C.M. Chan is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission

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Hong Kong parents: Allow your children time to rest and play if you want them to succeed in life

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Christian Chan, Esther Lau

Christian Chan and Esther Lau say that more exams and drilling at the expense of sleep and recreation defeats the purpose of advancing children’s growth

The Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA) is generating heated debate among politicians and parents alike. The arguments on both sides have validity, but all stakeholders should prioritise the many needs of the true beneficiary of their decisions – our children.

We are concerned that structured schooling and assessment exercises come at the expense of time for sleep, rest and play. The importance of sleep and play in a child’s neurocognitive and psychosocial development has been shown repeatedly in rigorous scientific research.

Children and teenagers need more sleep than adults. Sleep is vital to health, physically and mentally.

The body restores itself in sleep. We also know that sleep is essential to learning, especially the consolidation of learned materials. Ample scientific evidence has shown that those who sleep more perform better academically.

We are also beginning to understand the role sleep plays in emotional well-being. Simply put, when we are sleep-deprived, we are more prone to sickness, bad moods, risky behaviour, and are less effective and efficient in our work. For the developing brain, the impact of sleep deprivation can have serious long-term biological consequences.

[Parents protest against the TSA outside Legco. The issue is generating much debate among stakeholders, but we must remember that the needs of our children come first. Photo: Jonathan Wong] Parents protest against the TSA outside Legco. The issue is generating much debate among stakeholders, but we must remember that the needs of our children come first. Photo: Jonathan WongPlay is a human right. Emerging evidence suggests that play helps children develop important social and cognitive skills. Children learn to share, see other perspectives, deal with different emotions, and forgive. Surveys indicate that Hong Kong children do not spend much time playing, let alone playing with their parents, especially fathers. In addition to depriving children of the chance to develop important skills, this may prevent them from developing emotional bonding, which forms the basis for future development of relationships and well-being.

Hong Kong is a performance-oriented society. We empathise with the pressure on parents and schools to help young ones “get ahead”. Paradoxically, studying at the expense of sleep and play puts our children at risk of poor cognitive and social development so, instead of getting ahead, they might lose the “golden period” of brain growth that is critical for all kinds of functioning. Even for the most achievement-oriented parents and schools, more exams and drilling at the expense of sleep and play defeats the purpose of advancing children’s growth.

Fundamentally, we want our children to be happy. Parents should ask themselves whether the getting ahead paradigm is still the most conducive means to that end. We have a responsibility to protect our children. That should include their rights to rest and play.

Christian Chan and Esther Lau teach psychology at the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Institute of Education respectively

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Full subsidies for kindergarten education would improve their status and boost learning in Hong Kong

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton says with research on early childhood development now showing the importance of preschool, the Hong Kong government should invest in giving children a head start

Two recent news items, seemingly unrelated, bring pause for thought and the need for reform: The first is lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun’s comment last week that Hong Kong’s English standards need improving; the second concerns the ongoing anxiety about kindergarten tuition fees.

Tien’s comments about English standards and declining competitiveness in the city are not new. They reflect the ever-present concern that our education system is not doing a good enough job in teaching the world’s de facto lingua franca.

This mention of the education system leads to the recent concerns about the cost of sending children to kindergarten. Over 80 per cent of kindergartens have raised their fees by an average of over 8 per cent, which has resulted in some charging over HK$40,000 a year – or roughly the equivalent of tuition fees for a year of undergraduate studies at local universities.

Although that may seem absurd, it is not necessarily incongruous, given new understanding about intellectual development. Research in early childhood education increasingly reveals that it is the period from birth to about the age of five that the brain is at its most malleable and able to learn at a remarkable rate. Research also informs us that the steady decline in learning ability as we advance towards our teenage years reflects the decreasing plasticity of the brain. In other words, in terms of value for money, teaching a five-year-old trumps teaching a young adult every time.

Actually, most of us are aware of young children’s astonishing ability to learn, via our own experiences acquiring second and third languages, for example. Many parents are willing to part with their hard-earned money to send their kids to kindergarten in the knowledge that great benefits can be accrued.

With this background, the government’s policy of only partially subsidising kindergarten education while also setting a low median point for teachers’ salaries sends a message that kindergarten is not so important.

The rationale for not fully subsidising kindergartens may simply be historical momentum, whereby the teaching of children at that age is viewed more as playschool than the more academically oriented education that starts in Primary One. Thus, under this thinking, kindergarten is not deserving of the same financial support that real school merits.

Many people don’t see kindergarten as a place for serious learning, perhaps because that learning appears to involve a lot of play. Photo: Edmond So

In essence, without a full subsidy, the image of the kindergarten will remain the same – that is, not a place for serious learning, perhaps because that learning appears to involve a lot of play.

In light of our increasing understanding of children’s special learning abilities in their preschool years, it is time to reconsider and upgrade the status of kindergartens. Being fully subsidised, with teachers’ salaries on a par with those in the school sector, kindergartens could stand as venues of learning equal to primary and secondary school. With fully fledged status, they could attract more qualified teachers and better informed instruction, and a more regularised curriculum would give parents confidence that minimum standards were being met.

And, if all children had a year of English immersion in kindergarten, this could be worth as much as, or more than, multiple years of English classes in primary and secondary school.

Being fluent in English is no longer an option in a world where we need every competitive edge possible. Therefore, our education policy must capitalise on our knowledge of the human brain and put curriculums in place that best take advantage of our developmental propensities.

Paul Stapleton is an associate professor at the Hong Kong Institute of Education

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Finally, Tiger parents realise children need to play to succeed in today’s world

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion

Shimi Kang

Shimi Kang says the 21st-century skills children need to innovate and collaborate are developed in play – not through a regime of classes and drills

Did I hear that right? Kids need to be happy. Creative. Have soft skills. All this from the original, iron-fisted “all work, no play” Tiger Mum, Amy Chua, during her recent media tour for a newly opened tuition centre in Singapore.

What would make tiger parents pivot so strongly towards dolphin qualities of happiness, critical thinking, innovation and social skills? Maybe it’s reality – 21st-century reality.

To do well in today’s fast-paced, highly social, ultracompetitive and globally connected world, Tiger parents have finally realised our children need 21st-century skills. Four essential skills – creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration – were determined by the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, an international team of 250 researchers.

This set of core skills can be referred to as the consciousness quotient, or CQ. IQ (intelligence quotient) represents raw intellectual ability, and EQ (emotional quotient), emotional intelligence. For success today, our children will need an integration of both – CQ.

Luckily, this skill set does not require expensive tutoring and enrolment in exclusive schools. In addition, it cannot be drilled into a child in their teens; it flourishes from a foundation in childhood, one that includes the very things tiger mums hate – collaborative problem-solving, individual autonomy, freedom to explore and make mistakes, and play. Yes, playing – not studying, practising, tutoring or drilling.

For people of every age, play is directly linked to the development of the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the region responsible for discriminating relevant from irrelevant information, goal direction, abstract concepts, decision-making, organising our feelings, delaying gratification, critical thinking, and planning for the future. The prefrontal cortex directs our highest levels of thinking and functioning.

Because play allows us to imagine, communicate, solve problems, experiment, collaborate, try and fail, and create, it helps children survive and thrive in our rapidly changing world. Play provides children with the cognitive framework and flexible thinking needed to adapt to any situation.

Powerful examples include having a play date, going on a sleepover and being in a school play – exactly the things Chua explicitly forbade her children to do. If you want your children to be intelligent, develop emotional regulation, be innovative, work in a team and have great people skills, then let them play. Just don’t “tell” them to play, book a play activity, or pay someone to instruct them to play. There’s a big difference.

Dr Shimi Kang is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, award-winning researcher, speaker, and author