Shouldn’t children deserve a happy childhood?

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It’s 3.30pm. Having waited for whole day, I can finally pack my belongings and go back home. When I arrive home, I first switch on the television. Holding a bowl of chocolate ice-cream in my right hand and a pack of potato chips in my left hand while watching my favorite cartoon “Sailor Moon” – that’s how I would spend time after school when I was a student.

Playing with friends, watching favorite cartoon, or taking a nap – that shouldn’t be any reminiscent scene for children. However, the truth is that children in Hong Kong, whether in elementary or secondary school, often have busy schedules packed with not only extracurricular activities, but also endless tutorials. After attending a full day of school, children still have lessons outside school.

The education system nowadays is undoubtedly causing excessive suffering for students. In Hong Kong, there are hundreds of so-called “cram schools”. To survive in Hong Kong’s exam-oriented education system, students must master the art of cramming. In 2015, Forbes complied a list of 12 Asia’s Weirdest High-Paying jobs. Celebrity tutor ranks the second place. This can reflect the high demand for private tutoring in Hong Kong.

It is not surprising when most high school students attend tutorial centers due to steep competition and exam-based education system. However, an advertisement of a cram school, targeting kids who are 18-month-old, raised concerns. A crying girl with shocking slogan “You do not like competition? But there’ll always be competition!” is spotted on the poster. Public blame that the culture of private tutoring may ruin kids’ childhood. However, the spokesperson for the tutorial centre claimed that they were just showing a cruel fact.

Private tutoring aims at helping students to deal with public examinations. Some big tutorial centers even launch interview trainings for younger kids. The nature of private tutoring is good. However, when private tutoring is accepted as part of every children’s daily life, that’s something we should keep an eye on.

I have worked as a part-time private tutor for three years. Hailey Yip, one of my tutorial students, is a typical 7-year-old girl with about a dozen different tutorial lessons lined up – from private tutoring at home to writing tutorials at tutorial centers. From Monday to Sunday, her time is occupied. She used to have swimming lesson, badminton lesson and ballet lesson. “I really miss playing badminton with my classmates. It’s one of my favorite sports, but my parents said attending tutorial lessons is more important,” Hailey says.

Her sister Sally, 11, also has a tight schedule. “I haven’t watched television since primary 3. Every day, I attend tutorial class for 3 hours after school. During weekend, I have to attend 3 courses, which focus on doing mock paper,” Sally tells me. What immediately comes to my mind is: how can my students even busier than me as a university student and part-time tutor? “I’m tired of studying. I want to spend my weekend at Disney,” she adds.

“Some of Hailey and Sally ’s classmates even attend more tutorial classes. They don’t have time to entertain as well. Everyone is like this,” their mother Phoebe says. The Yip Family is not unique. A survey conducted by Caritas Youth and Community Service pointed out that 80 percent of primary 6 students attend tutorial classes for 8-16 hours a week; 50 percent attend tutorial classes for 17-25 hours or above per week. A school social worker, David Chan claimed some primary 6 students have tutorial lessons from 10am until midnight or later.

Another survey conducted by the Hong Kong Research Association in 2014 found that local students spend an average of 62.2 hours per week on studying, which is more than the average working hours of full time employees (49 hours).

Sabrina Im, 5 years of tutoring experience, clearly witnesses the change of private tutoring in Hong Kong: “Students used to attend tutorial lessons once a week. Recently, I’m asked to tutor children every day for three hours. Long study hours would only cause stress on children. I notice some students only sleep 5-6 hours per day. That’s extremely unacceptable.”

She continues: “Kids should enjoy their childhood. It’s so sad to see some of my students’ life only packed with tutorials. Private tutoring is something good, but when it occupies all your time, then it’s not good.”

A survey conducted by Young Women’s Christian Association found that 87 percent of students in Hong Kong are suffering sleep deprivation, which sleeping time is less than 10 hours. Moreover, nearly 60 percent of students spend less than an hour for daily entertainment, which does not meet the standard suggested by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Lingnan University revealed that Children’s Happiness Index has hit a three-year low. Academic stress and long study hours are the most relevant factors in affecting children’s happiness. It suggested that long study hours result from endless tutorials. The survey also found that “an adequate, eight hours of rest was a key factor in happiness”.

Psychologist and research professor, Peter Gray pointed out that “Without the freedom to play, they will never grow up”. He further explained that “Children practice all sorts of skills through play, including skills specific to their culture.” A psychiatrist, Stuart Brown found that people who are lack of freedom to play in their childhood will easily develop sadness when they grow up.

Studying is important. However, forming precious memories in childhood is far more important. When children just focus on attending tutorials, they won’t have time to take a nap, meet friends, entertain or explore the world. When children look back on their childhood memories, they won’t think of Disney or Oceanpark. When they are asked about their favorite cartoon, they could only give an answer of their favorite celebrity tutor. Their memories will be only filled by tutorials. Is that all you want for your child?

 

 

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