HK parents opt for holistic education
“British boarding school education is second to none in the world.” That is the bold claim made by Patricia Woodhouse, head teacher of the prestigious Malvern St James school in Worcestershire, England. About 4,800 Hong Kong parents agree.
Elite UK schools are not cheap. £30,000 a year is average, so why are these schools always oversubscribed. Surveys show that one main reason is their holistic approach to education. The government supported British Council puts it this way,
“UK boarding schools offer you excellent teaching, facilities and support. UK education is all about giving you the inspiration to help you develop your skills and knowledge, the freedom to be creative and the support to help you achieve your best.”
Is this just marketing speak or is it true? Take excellent teaching, skills and knowledge. A holistic approach does not mean that pupils do not have to work hard. It is important to be clear about this because it is not unusual for Chinese students to be sent abroad when they cannot score high enough marks to enter one of China’s elite universities. Parents think the curriculum is less demanding in western schools. This is a mistake.
The top British schools compete hard to get the maximum number of students into Britain’s elite universities, the Russell Group. Entry to these is by competitive exams called A Levels. Top schools expect pupils to work hard to get the highest grades.
It is true that the school day in Britain is shorter than in Hong Kong but it is a myth that pupils in the UK do not have loads of homework. In fact, more is expected of pupils in class and there is plenty of homework. The difference is in the style of teaching and the type of homework. Teaching is interactive and homework is designed to develop research, thinking and writing skills not just memorisation.
Elite private schools in the UK attract the best teachers. They are well paid and are supported with first class resources and far more professional development than Chinese teachers get. British pupils are usually highly motivated and supported by parents. Discipline is effective. The best teachers want to work in that environment.
The key word here is “inspiration.” Teachers who embrace the holistic approach believe in inspiring their students to be the best they possibly can be. This is demanding but when it works the result is skilled, creative, individually tailored teaching. Holistic teaching also breaks down barriers between subjects. For example, Chinese schools keep English, History and Geography in separate compartments. British schools use a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach. This encourages creative thinking and helps with university entrance.
“Support” is the second key to the holistic approach. Nearly all HK and mainland Chinese students need academic support to succeed in UK schools. They rarely have the study skills to work independently or creatively and often need help with English. The best schools know this. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Chinese education system and will fill the gaps.
But a word of warning; some schools have jumped on the bandwagon of growing international demand. They just take your money and hang your child out to dry without providing support. When choosing a school, it is essential to ask detailed questions about the level of support available. If you don’t get answers go somewhere else.
The British Council blurb goes on to say,
“You might be surprised at how important music, drama, art, public speaking, societies and sport are to UK boarding schools. As well as helping you to stay healthy and happy, art and sport are excellent for creativity, confidence and team spirit.”
This is true. Yes, pupils work hard but they also play hard. The aim is to develop your child’s personality. This is a vital element of the holistic approach and essential if your child wants to work for a western company after graduation.
Some Hong Kong students take to this environment, and to living in the UK, like ducks to water. But not all of them. That is where the final element of the holistic approach comes into play. “Pastoral care” as understood in the UK barely exists in Chinese schools. On the other hand, elite British schools take, “considerable care in maintaining a supportive and tolerant community that celebrates differences between people and that affirms a sense of belonging for all,” in the words of the Brighton College prospectus.
Pastoral care helps students deal with personal problems from adapting to a foreign culture, to growing up, dealing with relationships and conflicts and choosing a career. Nearly always it involves systems designed to help pupils support each other and older pupils to mentor younger ones. Methods used vary and you should ask questions, but the aim is always the same; to enable every child to grow up into a happy, well-adjusted, internationally aware, socially responsible adult.