Throughout the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit dozens of schools, kindergartens, education centres located in Hong Kong. Naturally I’ve taught a myriad of students ranging from drooling miniatures of humans to hulking, bad-tempered 17 year-olds who “nobody gets”. Conversations with such individuals can awake emotions in you that you never thought you had. Feelings of discomfort, camaraderie, impatience, wonder, rage, and an occasional ‘PLEASE-STOP-EATING-CRAYONS!!’.
The following is a loose transcript of a strangely eye-opening encounter that took place a month or so ago. Aaaaaaaaaaand to set the scene…
WHERE: Local, overpopulated secondary school that is nowhere near the top of any school charts.
WHO: Three awkward 15 year-olds that try their best to make themselves understood in their non-native language, English. (Also, their teacher for the next half-hour: me.)
WHAT: 30 minutes to analyze and debate dull, over-simplified socio-political topics.
(surprised and joyful)
Alright, that was pretty good! We still got 5 minutes, so just to kill time and to purely entertain myself, ask me anything you like, I’ll do my best to answer.
[Not 10 seconds later, the leader of the pack (girl in the middle) asks]
What do you think of Hong Kong’s education system?
[lights drop; students freeze; spotlight on MR BEN as he directs a soliloquy to the audience]
The question struck a chord with me. Not least because of the confident, previously apathetic and quippy girl whom the words were uttered by, suddenly became genuine and focused, as if my answer would decide her fate. My response was as honest and as unbiased as I could make it. The specifics are not strictly relevant. On the other hand, what happened next, is.
[lights back on, MR BEN now aimed at the students]
What do you guys think? Do you enjoy school?
ALL 3 STUDENTS:
- END SCENE -
My surprise didn’t primarily come from just a few 15 year-olds disliking school. It was brought on by their subsequent explanation of how they genuinely enjoy certain subjects and topics, how they yearn to know more, to learn more but have little opportunity to do so. I couldn’t help but feel empathy for a handful of the next generation who find themselves in a system that overloads on facts and figures. A system that prioritizes paper-based results and marks, rather than real-life experiences and application. A system that might teach you how to perfectly write the answer without ever teaching you how to solve the problem.
Frustration and a hint of disappointment entered our tiny little debate circle. Pondering on what’s been said, I tried to gather some wisdom from the dusty corners of my brain, and over the next remaining 2 minutes I encouraged them with all my might. To paraphrase it:
'No, this education system is not perfect. But then again, there isn’t a country that has one. And it's not something that can be fixed in a day. However, whatever the school lacks, you can find for yourself. There is an incredible amount of information out there that you can access if you look for it. So make sure you have a mindset of curiosity. Always be open for new things. Things are rarely black and white, so it's not always as simple as right or wrong. Respect other people and their opinions even if you don’t agree. Have healthy discussions. Challenge others as well as yourself. Be comfortable with making mistakes and then learn from them. Read, research, think, debate, write, learn, study, anything and everything you are interested in.'
Honestly, I know it sounds like rambling but I do truly wish someone had rambled them to me when I was 15. And while I trust that these students take away at least 10% of what's been said; it was a kind reminder for myself as well. I hope to always have an attitude of curiosity and constant growth.
Ageing well in time, through experiences.