Finding the right educational path at ISF

September 25, 2019
SCMP Updates
The International Schools Festival (ISF) 2019, hosted by the South China Morning Post, was both fun and informative thanks to a series of panel discussions featuring Hong Kong’s top educators.

Something that has always made Hong Kong’s international schools so appealing is the fact that academic excellence is simply considered the bare minimum. Most go one step further, with schools also focused on developing students into well-rounded citizens. 

One panel discussion focused on ‘Intelligence and Character: The Goal of True Education’ featuring Barney Durant, principal deputy head (Pastoral), Harrow International School Hong Kong; Robin Lister, founding headmaster, Malvern College Hong Kong; Ron Roukema, interim head of school, Hong Kong International School, and Richard Vanderpyl, head of school, Christian Alliance School. The discussion was moderated by Ruth Benny, head girl at Top Schools.

“Qualities such as perseverance and hope are an important part of character, as well as attributes like compassion and care,” said Vanderpyl. “And of course we want our students to do well academically, but without question, emotional intelligence is just as important, not just for studies, but for overall mental health.”

Roukema added that the objective of a school is not to be the best in Hong Kong, but the best for Hong Kong. “This means focusing on service as well,” he said. “A lot of international school students in Hong Kong lead great lives and part of being a well-rounded citizen is giving back to the community. Nowadays it’s not enough to just have good grades; universities and workplaces both look for people that look to improve the people around you.”

Lister agreed with his fellow panellists, adding that: “Fulfilling academics is absolutely essential, but in my opinion, emotional intelligence is actually more important. If we can teach our children this early on (...) that’s a great start to life. I was flabbergasted when I saw some recent research from Harvard University showing how important emotional intelligence is to succeed in life. “

Durant said that one of the most important attributes related to emotional intelligence is resiliency. “Within a school context, this means the ability to bounce back. Failure doesn’t mean you pack your bags and go; if you miss the final penalty in a tournament you don’t need to give up football. If you fail you bounce back and come back stronger, and this is also true in an academic context.”

Another panel discussion focused specifically on ‘Looking After Your Child’s Well-Being’. It featured Dr Jamie Chu, a clinical psychologist and founder of The Brightly Project; Ben Keeling, principal at Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong; Adam Patterson, general manager, Woodland Pre-Schools, and Kristel Solomon-Saleem, director of learner support at Hong Kong Academy. The discussion was moderated by Douglas Parkes, Education editor at the SCMP.
“It is important to help students identify their personal passions; finding, celebrating and sharing that experience with them,” said Solomon-Saleem. “If children are able to find their passion, they will not only do so much better and be more motivated, their mental health will be better as well.”

Keeling added that for Hong Kong parents, sometimes they should focus on what they shouldn’t do, rather than what they should, in order to improve their children’s mental health. 

“Hong Kong people are unusually ambitious,” he said. “I imagine they’re already doing an awful lot of things. I am a strong advocate of downtime, giving children the chance to breathe and grow, and maybe even grow quietly bored on occasion. These days children are already stressed and anxious enough as it is, moving towards adulthood and figuring out what they want to do. Sometimes we need to let them figure things out by themselves.”

Patterson added that most companies and countries have a ‘happiness index’ now, so he asked the question: “Why shouldn’t this be the same for our schools?”

“At the end of the day, ensuring our children’s happiness should be the number one priority,” he said. “Too often we get fixated on grades and academic performance but if they’re not happy, is it really worth it? So we try to ensure that children’s happiness comes first, and the good grades will follow.”

Chu finished by recommending parents limit children’s screen time. And all of the panellists acknowledged the benefits of children sharing a technology-free meal with friends and family.

“Minimise screen time, as these days [kids] are always trying to push for more time on screens, as games and apps are getting more addictive. Push for more outdoor time, social time, real-life interactions. Also, try to have conversations with children about things other than grades. That way children are more likely to listen and feel heard, and this will do wonders for their mental health.”
About South China Morning Post 

South China Morning Post is a leading global news company that has reported on China and Asia for more than a century. Founded in 1903, SCMP is headquartered in Hong Kong, where it is the city’s newspaper of record, with a growing correspondent staff across Asia and the United States. Its editorial teams are powered by emerging digital technologies to create innovative ways to tell Asia’s most important and compelling stories.

Against the backdrop of shifting discovery and consumption behaviours, SCMP reaches users across distributed media platforms including, smartphone and tablet apps, social media and messaging platforms, as well as our flagship newspaper.  SCMP is also home to Abacus, a digital news brand focused on China's tech industry; Inkstone, a daily news brief for those curious about China's growing impact around the world; and Goldthread, a content platform with a focus on food, travel and culture in China.