The next generation
Making a living here is not for the weak in body and spirit, speed and efficiency count for all and under this unforgiving humid sun. For most long hours and minimum wage with the boss on your back six days a week with just Sunday to catch your breath is the cruel reality. No streets paved with gold and no dreams.
The kids don’t fare much better, they have it hard too. The next generation is extremely important to all Chinese. Their kids are their raison d’etre and their education is a priority, second only to their physical well being.
It is great parents care so much about their kids, far better than neglect or abuse. The one child policy doesn’t extend to Hong Kong as it is a Special Administrative Area; Mainland China has got round the problem by explaining it is ‘One country but two systems’. I’m happy to confirm the golden goose is very much alive and kicking. But the Hong Kongers self regulate because they can barely afford the one child and in this modern age girls are just as precious as boys.
So they focus all their love and attention and expections on the only child. They hope and pray their kid will have a better life, not have to slave away in a soul destroying dead end job. And the only way is through education, education, education. Hence tuition centres are doing a thriving business and can be found in all crooks and crannies, even ten in a row in a shopping centre.
I do feel for the tremendous pressure to achieve and get top marks put on these kids from a very young age. Straight after a day’s school it’s off to the tuition centre for a couple of hours then back home with another few hours of homework to look forward to. Time just for dinner and a shower, bed and the same gruelling routine when you wake.
I do really feel for those who are not academic and will never get those A’s and be Number One in class ever, no matter how much tuition is rammed down their throat. Not all of us can be Einstein, Stephen Hawking or Fry.
All kids want to please their parents and they know how hard they work to pay for this extra education to give them a headstart. They know it is for their own good and the last thing they want is to let their mum and dad down. The last thing they want is to disappoint, so they try their best without a word of complaint and suffer shame and devastation when their average results come out.
In the three months I’ve been here, one thing cries out to me, kids don’t get to play much if ever here. Just as grown ups have no time to chill so the next generation doesn’t have the luxury to just play with no hidden agenda. I tried to convince this dad of the value of play, how kids learn more when they are relaxed and having fun. He looked at me like I had just escaped from the mental hospital or an alien.
He told me he didn’t want to put so much pressure on them but the competition is stiff and furious. If you don’t keep up you’ll be left behind. True but I wonder what psychological damage is being done to the future generation; in a class of thirty or forty there can only be one Number One. There are cases of kids as young as nine committing suicide as the final way out. Instead of a highflier you end up with a dead kid.
Recently I read the news of a teenager who was arrested for murdering his father and older sister because they were putting too much pressure on him to study hard and do well! Either allow the pressure cooker to let off steam now and again or run the risk of it exploding in your face.
The same dad wanted me to meet his kids and assess their competence in English. He warned me not to have too high an expectation especially from his daughter and complained she wasn’t at all motivated. Well it turns out her command was excellent for a ten year old who doesn’t hear English around her and never uses it outside of lessons. Not only could she understand most of what I was saying but respond. Occasionally she would speak in Chinese if she didn’t know how to say it in English but that is ok. She read a passage from one of the textbooks she would use for next year and could instantly translate it bar a couple of words. I pretended I needed her help in deciding which outlying island to take my daughter and she told me the advantages of each and even went to get a map to show me where they were. Now if that is not motivation then I don’t know what is.
When I told dad the good news, you’ll think he’d be overjoyed. Nope, not a chance. He just smiled and said ah but her classmates’ English are far better! Not only do I think his expectations of his offsprings are unrealistic but also of me, the potential tutor.
We may end up with a lot of nerds and smartypants but without imagination or creativity. They’ll certainly work hard but not play hard. Too high a price to pay for speed and efficiency?