Last summer, Nicole Zhang implemented creative learning techniques in her Hong Kong classroom, yielding academic and personal growth among her students.

去年夏天Nicole Zhang在她任教的香港课堂中采用了创造性学习方法,使学生在学习以及成长方面都受益匪浅。

This past summer, I taught local underprivileged students, ages 13 to 17, at the non-profit educational organization Summerbridge Hong Kong. Bonnie, 16, shared that she spent her summer weekdays and weekends in school prepping for a grueling university entrance exam. “I feel so stressed and I don’t even know what I want to do for college,” she said.

Nicole’s students performing in a talent show.

One of the biggest issues contributing to the fierce competition in the Hong Kong education system is the limited space in local universities. An article in Time Out magazine showed that less than 15,000 publicly-funded university degrees have been awarded annually since 1994. With 28,418 students meeting the minimum university entry requirements in 2016, more than 13,000 — almost half of the students — could not enter a publicly-funded university as incoming first-year students. As a result, students, parents and educational institutes orient education and success to an incredibly competitive standard where not all students are served.

Growing up in China, I also experienced a stressful education system. While schools and tutoring institutes put a heavy emphasis on academics and standardized tests, their intention of encouraging students to learn seems to backfire. Students experience intense stress and deride the education system. “I only sleep for four hours sometimes during the school days. I used to love basketball and was a great player, but now I have to give up what I enjoy to put all my time in studying,” said Bonnie. A 2017 survey by Hong Kong’s Baptist Oi Kwan Social Service found that among 1,300 primary students, 21.7% complained of constant stress. Out of the 38 primary or secondary school student suicides from 2013 to 2016, 58% of these deaths were related to education.

To increase students’ interest while minimizing their stress from traditional schooling, I successfully employed creative methods in the classroom during my time at Summerbridge by turning boring exercises into fun games and activities by using multimedia in the classroom, which piqued the student’s interest and passion for learning. I designed and taught my own English curriculum focusing on public speaking.

For instance, in my “facial expression and body language” lesson, I introduced a game where I would show one team member a word and he/she had to act it out and let the rest of the group guess. Students learned new vocabulary such as “shrug” and “smirk” without realizing it. To my surprise, although the students were shy and quiet at first, they soon got used to the interactive learning environment — they not only participated in games, but also asked me to speak about topics that they were interested in.

During my summer interaction with these students, I did not assign them any homework or tests, yet I saw their potential to grow as learners and more importantly as citizens. Rose, 16, wants to be a psychologist because of her interest in mental wellness; Chloe, 16, wants to practice law to help those who cannot afford attorney’s fee; Jeff, 16, wants to be a social worker to serve underprivileged youth.

By learning about their passions, I recommended movies and books to them to continue their learning outside of the classroom. It dawned on me that creative teaching techniques benefit not only students but also educators because I got to know each student as individuals and was able to give them personalized guidance and advice. Hopefully in the near future, education institutes in Hong Kong will focus on the students themselves rather than on test scores, and implement more creative teaching methods in the classroom.