The Harbour School (2006)

The Harbour School
Kennedy Town Centre,
23 Belchers St
Hong Kong

(852) 2816 5222

Educational reform is not just necessary, it is inevitable. School is a disheartening experience for most kids. For many, it is boring and stultifying, filled with tasks whose purpose seems meaningless and that are either too easy or too hard. At worst, it is frustrating and frightening, a place where self-esteem and creativity suffer and where each day becomes about surviving the academic and social challenges presented. Educators and parents have long lamented the fact that many schools seem to teach children all of the wrong habits and attitudes about learning, producing and living. In addition, the skills and knowledge acquired in school are often tailored to the needs and job market of the 19th and 20th centuries, but do not prepare kids for the needs or jobs of the 21st century.

At The Harbour School, we were challenged with considering the advances in the fields of education, psychology and technology, and with creating a school “from the ground up” that incorporated those advances. At the same time, we wanted to be sure that we maintained a structured and measured approach to core skills such as reading, math and writing. Positive Psychology does not just mean fostering an attitude of optimism and positive emotions, but also resilience, persistence, self-confidence, self-advocacy, social skills, teamwork, personal insight, problem-solving, engagement and social responsibility. If we want to help people to be happy, healthy and productive adults, we need to really focus on first enhancing their ability to be happy, healthy and productive children.

One of the first things that we did differently was to increase the teacher to student ratio to one teacher for every seven students in class. This allowed us to create much more customised, differentiated curricula so that very advanced students could go more quickly with advanced materials while students who struggled more in a particular subject could spend a bit more time in order to thoroughly understand it. (Of course, quite often we found that children who were very advanced in one subject were less capable in another.) Since learning is a natural instinct – and really fun when it is at an appropriate level – this alone improved children’s enjoyment, confidence and sense of mastery.

We utilised experiential and authentic learning when suitable, particularly in history and science, and we trained teachers to conduct interactive experiential units. We bought a 50-foot sailing ketch, The Black Dolphin, as an outdoor classroom to further facilitate the study of ecology, physics, geography and marine biology at all grade levels.

Because tomorrow’s citizens will have to work in teams and with all types of people, we have an inclusive and diverse group of children. Kids learn to understand, accept and work with each others’ strengths and weaknesses (as well as their own) and develop social skills for problem solving with different types of people. Rather than demanding that all children be equally skilled at all things, we feel that part of the purpose of education is to help children to discover their own islands of excellence.

Beginning with only seven children seven years ago, we are still a very small school with less than 200 students. Nonetheless, the diversity of our children’s achievements is beginning to illustrate our goals. Our video, Plastic Ocean, has been playing at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum for a year and is used by schools worldwide. Last year, one of our students was the Hong Kong chess champion for his age and another was one of the top five students (out of several hundred) in the Young Inventor’s Contest. In the recent K-Pop competition, the only child among the finalists was a child from our school. Another was one of Asia’s top finalists in math through Johns Hopkins University’s Talent Search. Our wrestling team came home from the Singapore Open National Competition with one gold, two silver and four bronze medals… and the list goes on. Despite having an inclusive policy with differentiated curriculum, our recent standardised test scores were comparable to very selective international schools. It turns out that finding and exploring students’ own strengths in a supportive and exciting atmosphere can have some very positive results.

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