“Playing a part in a child’s development is so rewarding”

Rachel

Meet Rachel, Biology teacher, St Margaret’s School (Hong-Kong)

I discovered Rachel in her Biology class: she is a smiling teacher, full of life, amiable and caring for her students. Although she would say during our interview that she didn’t fell very innovative during that lesson, I appreciated her relationship with students and how she would manage to make everyone feel free to voice their opinion in a structured way.

Relevance

Rachel is in her 11th year of teaching; she moved from teaching Music to Biology. She is concerned about finding connections for her students, that’s why she likes biology so much: “this subject is relevant to them, it helps them knowing more about their body and their life”. That’s why she tries to start every lesson with a question related to them and the chapter so that they can understand the purpose of what they are doing in class.

In addition to Biology, Rachel teaches Life Value Education with immense pleasure. This course aims at helping students with life skills like managing money, life-planning, managing their stress. It happens once a week, the curriculum is very flexible and topics are chosen by the students and approached through discussions and games. For example, they played a game mimicking life: in groups, they had several attributes (being rich, having lots of friends…) and they had to move forward in the game that asked them to take everyday life decision using their attributes. “They sometimes had to be very creative with their options to keep moving. I think it showed them that we can always get out of a situation with a positive mindset.”

What comes out from our discussion about her teaching is that Rachel sees it as something holistic: “playing a part in a child’s development is so rewarding”, she affirms. “Most of my student will not become biologists, so apart from preparing them to their exam, I keep reminding myself to prepare them for their life. I think as a teacher it is important to teach them a certain knowledge that would be helpful to them as adults, but I think more importantly we need to empower them with the certain skills such as self-learning, being creative and most importantly the attitude of persevering through difficulties and believing in themselves.” Needless to say that Rachel wasn’t delighted with Hong-Kong’s educational system.

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Mosaic in St Margaret’s School

Questioning the educational system

We had a lengthy and passionate discussion about how school works in Hong-Kong. First of all, although English and Chinese are the two official languages, all exams are in English, which discriminates unfairly against non-English speaking communities, and “competent students can fail to their exam because of the language only”, regrets Rachel. I can feel her anger against a system that she perceives as unequal and absurd: “even if students grasp the concept, they can lose points because they don’t know how to express it properly.”

On top of that, only 18% of the students get to enter to the public university, and a fierce competition takes place from the earliest ages. In November, elementary schools are running their interview to select their students, and you might see long lines of children in front of the best schools. From that early age, kindergarten is preparing kids for this interview where their playing will be observed and assessed. “So, what you can find is that you have children speaking five languages, playing two instruments but losing interest in learning because they never get to do anything for themselves,” concludes Rachel.

The educational system in Hong-Kong is exam-driven, and most of the student think their academic level defines who they are, it leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. When I’m questioning about PISA that ranks Hong-Kong among the best countries in education, she replies: “Of course our students are good at those tests! They’ve been prepared and tested since they are in preschool. We are great in PISA examination but what about creating good humans?”

Rachel concedes that on the paper, the government is trying to change and think about the future, and the urge of developing new skills like creativity, flexibility, but the society is changing very slowly.

Although she might be very critical about education in Honk-Kong, staying here is a real choice: “I hope that through my work my students can see that even though the system and the situation are so imperfect, they still have every potential to get to where they want to be in life.”