It was with some trepidation that I began to write my first assignment as a new part-time postgraduate student at HKU.
I had enrolled on the part-time PGDE in Early Childhood after having been a teacher for some 20 years. I had originally qualified as a teacher, studying at HKU, when the different stages in schooling were not so differentiated. I now thought it was a good time to bring myself up to date by studying specifically for a PGDE in early childhood.
I thus found myself in a class of students who were all considerably younger than I was. In fact, some were my daughters’ age! I was somewhat apprehensive before the course began about how they would react to having someone so much older in the class. I needn’t have worried. It is a mark of the friendly, welcoming, and inclusive atmosphere fostered by HKU that our different ages and backgrounds were never an issue. We were all just students who wanted to teach young children to the best of our ability.
One thing did worry me though, and that was writing an academic essay again after some considerable time away from academic study. My fellow students had not been away from study for as long and were all very bright and capable. The first essay was for Dr Anthony Cheng. It was about the extent to which the consideration of the happiness of students should outweigh consideration of the benefits to society when deciding educational aims.
I have thought about this subject a lot since writing the essay and have found myself reflecting on it again after reading the latest edition of the World Happiness Report. I initially came across the World Happiness Report when writing my assignment, and it was the publication of the latest edition that brought back some of the memories I have just been describing.
As the writers of the report observe, and as I discovered writing my essay, happiness, what it is and how to find it, is not so straightforward a subject as at first sight it might seem. This is especially the case when it comes to education.
As teachers and parents, we want our children to be happy. We know that if our children are to find future happiness in life, they must work hard now, and children in Hong Kong work very hard. They may be happy to do it, but are they happy?
And what about parents? Their happiness or unhappiness will inevitably affect that of their children. Many mothers, for example, find themselves making significant sacrifices in their own career when they become mothers. They may be happy to do it, but are they happy?
And fathers, perhaps conscious of the sacrifices society still expects women to make when they become mothers, feel themselves under even greater pressure to fetch in the money, often working long hours to do so, and, ironically, seeing little of their children in the process. They may be happy to do it, but are they happy?
I work in a church school whose aim is to educate children based on Christian principles. In the Bible, there is this verse:
‘But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.’ (Galatians 4:26)
The idea behind this verse is that Christians are not just citizens of earthly cities such as Hong Kong, London, and New York, the three cities I personally have lived in, but of the heavenly city, described here as ‘Jerusalem above’. It is from this heavenly city that those who belong to it are to get their values, attitudes, and priorities. This was the theme of the City of God, an important and influential book by the fourth and fifth century saint, St Augustine.
As St Augustine observes, although we may look to the happiness that will come after death, we can, by living in this life as members of the heavenly city, begin to enjoy, here and now, the happiness that will come to us hereafter. I find this a particularly helpful idea when thinking about happiness in my work as a teacher as it elevates the concept of happiness, so that it becomes about more than what we feel subjectively and possess materially, and views happiness instead from a spiritual perspective.
When I originally qualified as a teacher to say such things in an academic context would have been to risk being dismissed as a religious fanatic. Increasingly, however, educators are recognising that a child’s emotional and spiritual well-being cannot be ignored. There is some excellent work being done on how promoting a child’s emotional and spiritual well-being can be embodied in the curriculum. Professor Tan’s book, Mindful Education, is really helpful in thinking about how to do this.
The problem, of course, occurs when the values of the heavenly city and the values of the earthly city clash, as they often do. That is, when the political, economic, and social priorities of society demand one thing and the spiritual and emotional well-being of the child another.
But that is, perhaps, the subject for another blog!
Winnie went to school at DGS and a boarding school in England before studying law at the London School of Economics. She then studied for a master’s degree in law at New York University. After qualifying as a lawyer, she worked as a tax attorney in New York.
She qualified as a teacher at HKU and has been an early childhood teacher for over twenty years. She has also obtained a Postgraduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education, again from HKU, and several qualifications in music and education.
She is currently the Principal of Christ Church Kindergarten.