Is getting higher scores the only goal of seeking an education? Is a childhood full of booster classes since kindergarten a happy one? In the eyes of Cheng Ka Yee, the headmistress of SJS Kathleen Mcdouall Kindergarten, kindergarten teachers are like engineers of human souls to the young, innocent kids they teach. She hopes that all of them would have acquired confidence, hope and compassion when they graduate.
Ka Yee has studied for her certificates in child care work and special child care work at IVE (Lee Wai Lee), and then went on to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Hong Kong Baptist University and the Hong Kong Institute of Education respectively. Her choice of pursuing a career in early childhood education has much to do with a piece of her childhood memory: when she was little, Ka Yee attended a kindergarten while her parents were at work. There were days when her parents had to work overtime and were late to pick her up after school. One of the teachers who lived upstairs of the kindergarten would take her home and let her wait for her parents there. This piece of love-filled memory has prompted her to give up enrolling in nursing or design courses after graduating from high school, but instead setting off to combine work with interests, with the hope that she could pass on the love that she felt back then.
Ka Yee kept studying and working her way from being one of the teaching staff to be the headmistress of the kindergarten. Besides courses that were directly related to her work, she also studied a variety of subjects, including courses on design, outbound tour escort and tour guide, mediation and workplace conflict, even a course on drama studies. There are so many changes in the world nowadays, she thinks, so she hopes that she could learn more about the society, enrich her knowledge and widen her horizons through her further studies. She also aims to get in touch with people from all ages and pick up new thinking from the younger generation. This is so that she can enhance herself, and put her knowledge into practice in real life while gaining wisdom in the process. On the other hand, she also thinks that when one stays in the same environment for too long, one would easily get too snooty. Then if you enroll in a new course and put yourself in a new environment, you will feel lost and bewildered suddenly and thus learn to be modest. According to Ka Yee, further studies brought about one more surprising bonus for her: she got to communicate better with the parents of her students.
No difference in expectations from parents of different backgrounds
The kindergarten under her care located in Wanchai, a district where there is a mixture of east and west, and old and new. Some of the students came from the original grass-roots community; some others are from the newly built luxury residences. It became a specialized expertise in dealing with these two different groups of parents. However, no matter what backgrounds they are, all parents have the same expectations of their kids. They all wish their kids to win at the starting line and get into good schools, so they would begin prepping them as early as kindergarten.
With regards to parents’ expectations and demands, Ka Yee considers it more important to win by enjoying the competition. It is her intention that the children would be cheerful and happy all through their studies, and she considers playing a way of learning which can train the young kids to learn by themselves. Too bad that many of the parents do not agree with her approach and still think that only copying, reciting, piano-playing, etc. are counted as learning. That is why there are so many booster classes on the streets and young children could only passively absorb knowledge. The school still thinks that kindergarten is not just about prepping for advancing to primary school. Although under the circumstances it has to launch extracurricular interest classes to cater to the demands of many parents, it still hopes that a balance in terms of quantity could be achieved.
Action speaks louder than words
To meet the demands of parents and maintain good communication with them have much benefits for teaching. The school could then focus on letting their students learn happily from designed activities. Here Ka Yee reveals a key to interviews for kindergarten: the responses of the parents are even more crucial than that of their kids. The reason for this is that a one to two-year-old has much flexibility in his potentials, and his character has not been set yet. It is not a problem even if he is shy or cried at the interview. On the other hand, the way how his parent handles the situation when the kid is wailing is more important, because it reveals how the parents are doing in terms of teaching by example. To young children, parents are their first teachers, those at school come at second, and the surroundings are the third. It shows that the role of parents is of paramount significance, and the responsibility should not be shifted to the school nor the surroundings. It is believed that if the parents do not use curse words, the kids won’t curse even if they heard it in the community environment.
Desiring confidence, hope and compassion from students
After their spending three years at kindergarten, what Ka Yee wanted most from the young children are their gaining of confidence, hope and compassion: confidence as in believing in oneself so they won’t be overcautious; hope so as to persevere; and compassion that leads to filial piety and loyalty. It is believed that these achievements in their character would stay with them all through their lives.
Having spent a number of years in the industry, Ka Yee followed the footsteps of her predecessors and has served on the boards of various organisations related to early childhood education. She worked hard to fight for better working conditions for her fellow workers and the next generation. At the same time, she also participated in the Young Alumni Protégé Programme organised by the Alumni Relations Section. Under this programme, she gets to mentor a junior alumnus who is a new entrant to the industry. While he is busy with his work, he would share with her the joys and hardships on the job, and consult with her about plans for further studies. It is her wish that she could help the young protégés to forge ahead in this industry by sharing with them her own experience.
The field of early childhood education in Hong Kong faces many difficulties, including high turnover rate and shifting education policy that makes it tough to follow. It is thus not at all easy to stick to the goal of achieving confidence, hope and compassion. Yet Ka Yee still believes that if one is armed with dreams and courage to endure hardships, take in more about the people-centered approach in early childhood education in the West, and put an emphasis on children’s rights, it will be gratifying to learn that we have moved forward, no matter how small a step it is. The love that Ka Yee had gotten from her kindergarten teacher, she simply wishes to pay it forward.