Eight-year-old Jacob Yeung Chun-hei used to be shy and withdrawn, and going to school would make him cry.
But the Primary Three pupil at the STFA Lee Kam Primary School in Tuen Mun says now he loves going to school, where he can play with his classmates during breaks, and attend special classes with games designed by his school to cultivate positive emotions and interpersonal relationships.
In one such class, Yeung and his fellow pupils were asked by their teacher to stuff a ball in their uniform to simulate pregnancy. Yeung says he learned about the difficulties of motherhood.
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“I love going to school and I’m happy there,” he says.
His mother Pearl Tong, a 32-year-old yoga teacher, says she is impressed to see her son become more open and active, and develop a positive attitude in daily life, even when he fails after working hard.
Yeung’s school launched its “positive education” programme in 2017 to promote the intellectual growth and psychological well-being of students, parents and teachers.
Positive education is an approach that brings together the science of psychology and the best teaching and learning practices to encourage all members of the school community to flourish.
Although an increasing number of schools in the United States, Britain and Australia have incorporated this approach in their curriculums, it has yet to take off in Hong Kong.
To help establish a positive education model for Hong Kong schools, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust and the faculty of social science at Chinese University launched the Jockey Club Positive Education “Ascend and Radiate” Project in 2017. The three-year pilot programme ended this month.
The STFA Lee Kam Primary School is one of the schools involved in the programme. Vice-principal Ip Bik-kwan says she was impressed by the system during overseas trips, including to Finland, the Netherlands and Spain, where she found students enjoyed school and did not study for exams.
Apart from the usual curriculum, their schools also focused on nurturing specific abilities in students, including emotion control, stress management and social skills, to enable them to learn and grow happily and healthily.
Based on experiences and skills from overseas, as well as the situation of their own students, Ip and her team have designed a “Super+” course framework, which covers six years of primary school, with each year having a different focus. The Primary One year, for example, focuses on building positive relationships to help students adapt to the school environment and prepare them for future growth, while the Primary Two year nurtures healthy emotions.
In each of 22 half-hour classes every year, a teacher and a school administration staff member instruct students to play games in teams, share their thoughts with one another and reflect on their behaviour.
The school has designed its classrooms in such a way as to make studying there more fun, including designating a special rug zone where students can play barefoot, a Lego zone where they can play with mini-figures, a gaming zone and an innovation zone. Students’ seats are also arranged in small groups.
“Positive education enables students to grow up well and lead a flourishing life,” says So Bik-ting, the school’s principal.
In addition to helping students, the school’s positive education programme has also engaged parents and teachers, as both play important roles in children’s growth and learning, So says.
The school has offered seminars on good parenting skills, and organised workshops for parents and students to spend time and work together.
For educators, some routine meetings have been cut short to allow them to spend more time with their students and improve their teaching. The school has also brought in social workers to help teachers alleviate stress, and organised interest classes for educators to nurture new hobbies, such as making coffee and brewing craft beer.
Teacher Ho Wan-yin, who is in her 40s, says the experiences are refreshing and have made her more motivated in her work.
“It is natural for teachers to develop inertia over the years, and forget their initial motivation. But those experiences have made me reflect on the essence of education, which is to impact people, and I’m now more engaged with my students,” says Ho, who has 20 years of classroom experience.
Ip says the school has also shared its experiences with more than 300 others to help the approach spread across the city.
“We hope to establish a model of positive education in Hong Kong,” she says.
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