Date
12 November 2019
Staying physically active not only benefits children in terms of growth and development, it can also improve their cognition and learning, experts say. Photo: Bloomberg
Staying physically active not only benefits children in terms of growth and development, it can also improve their cognition and learning, experts say. Photo: Bloomberg

Let our schoolkids get proper breaks

With the summer holiday break, students finally get a chance to put down their books and start enjoying various extracurricular activities.

It is a well-known fact that students in Hong Kong face tremendous pressure, with too much homework. Forced to pursue academic excellence at all costs, young boys and girls are often deprived of their right to rest and play during their school years.

It is doubtful if studying day and night can really help students secure good marks. According to a report by the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health last February, research studies suggested a positive association between children playing sport or being physically active and their ability to get better marks at school.

The report also noted that the overall physical activity level among children and youth in Hong Kong was poor. Almost 80 percent of primary schools only had physical education class of 70-120 minutes per week, while physical education lessons of secondary students were on average 22 percent shorter in length than scheduled.

Schools should play a primary role in promoting students’ physical activity and sport participation. Staying physically active not only benefits children in terms of growth and development, it can also improve their cognition and learning. Depriving children of physical activity or active play can be deemed as breach of their basic right to health.

Finland’s education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, with students there topping in many international assessments. At the same time, they were among the happiest and eager to learn by themselves.

Around a month ago I was in Finland for the second time, during which I visited a small-scale nursery school in Helsinki. Though the institution was small, it had an outdoor area allowing toddlers to move around.

In terms of hardware and software, the Finnish education system encourages children to stay active every day. Their school hours are not long, and there are adequate breaks. Primary school pupils can finish their daily assignments around 30 minutes or at most within an hour, allowing them room and time to develop and explore their interests on their own.

This is a big contrast with the situation in Hong Kong, which has been lagging far behind.

According to a LegCo research publication on overall study hours and student well-being in Hong Kong, the total study time for local students in all grades of primary to secondary education (comprising schooling hours, after-school homework and private tutorial classes) was roughly assessed to average at about 55 hours per week.

As per a latest finding by the Department of Health, only eight percent of the interviewed primary pupils and four percent of the secondary students said they did an hour or more of physical activity every day.

Many publicly or privately commissioned reports also suggested that Hong Kong pupils’ study hours have been too long, with too little time for leisure and sleep. 

Since 1998, the government has been implementing whole-day schooling in all primary schools, aiming to create more time for teachers to interact with children and more time for children to participate in group activities

However, the program ends up in children just having to spend more time on classes and getting more assignments. And it is often heard that schools have been cutting short lunchtime and recess hours.

In a vicious circle of long study hours and high academic pressure, students often find themselves burned out physically and mentally over time.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 22

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Legislative Council member from the education sector