Published: 21:52, January 10, 2024 | Updated: 09:26, January 11, 2024
Family education is key to a healthier, happier life
By Ting Fong-fong and Kacee Ting Wong

Family is the primary social group and the most important vehicle for accommodating the emotional needs of individuals. Rich emotional connections established with parents can ensure the healthy physical and mental development of children.

Studies have shown that happiness and life satisfaction are highly correlated. In the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations last year, Hong Kong ranked 82nd, lagging far behind the Chinese mainland (64th), Taiwan (27th) and Singapore (25th). It is beyond dispute that parents who are themselves unhappy not only lack the capability to respond properly, but could even be persistently ignorant of their children’s emotional needs. 

From October 2021 to December 2022, a market research company conducted a survey on the topic of a “personal happiness index” in seven Asia-Pacific regions. A total of 17,975 samples were collected in Hong Kong. The result showed Hong Kong at the bottom of the seven regions, and the younger the respondents, the lower their happiness index. While many theories could provide possible explanations of the root cause, one indisputable factor is that parents who are preoccupied by work or lacking in parenting skills could hardly implement proper family-based education.

Among those Hong Kong residents who are neither “happy” nor capable of feeling “happiness”, many may feel powerless, fearful or even reluctant to be involved in family education. One can get a glimpse of this situation from the low fertility rate of the city. The international consensus is that each couple needs to have an average of 2.1 children to maintain population growth. Over the past 30 years, Hong Kong’s fertility rate has shown a downward trend. The city now has the lowest fertility rate globally, with each woman giving birth to an average of 0.8 children. In 2021, there were only 772 new births per 1,000 women.

Education helps develop parenting skills

Apart from giving birth and nurturing, families should perform an educational function. In the past, the family’s educational function was relatively prominent but is declining now. As women join the workforce and become an important part of it, “family education” has almost completely been replaced by “school education”.

As we all know, school education performs the function of nurturing talent for society. Therefore, the essentials of school teaching are driven by social needs. When exam-oriented education becomes the focus of schools, the lack of family education directly leads to an incomplete education system, particularly in the areas of human nature guidance and character building.

Parenting means the manner of raising children. Family background has a direct impact on parenting, including the parents’ education level, personality, parenting ability, social status, income, marriage, family relationships, time spent with children, children’s age, number and gender, religion, etc. 

In the education system, parent education ought to be a very important part. Parent education should be our fundamental mission and a lifelong commitment

Needless to say, the effects of “family background” and “parenting” are not necessarily positively related. For instance, a pair of highly educated parents may not necessarily raise the best children. Although becoming a parent does not require a license, proper parenting skills ought to be acquired through learning.

I became a teacher at a secondary school after graduating from college. At that time, a secondary school boy left a deep impression on me. Since his parents spent too much time at work, even though they were highly educated and experienced senior education practitioners, their 12-year-old boy was almost uncontrollable. However, when facing me — a fledging teacher, the boy became obedient and willing to learn. As a result, his parents expressed their gratitude to me and took the initiative to attend school activities, allowing me to spend more time with their boy in activities such as sushi-making and chatting.

Therefore, through “parent education”, parents can improve their parenting skills, increase their satisfaction in parenting and ultimately benefit the development of the next generation. Parent education is of the utmost importance!

Parent education in HK today

Although family education has a long history in China, “parent education” in Hong Kong is an area pending development by the Education Bureau. In October 2017, the then-chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, proposed in the Policy Address that education experts be invited to lead, review and follow up on various educational areas and work, including improving home-school cooperation and strengthening parent education in order to take better care of children’s health and enable them to grow up happily. In December that year, the Education Bureau established the Task Force on Home-school Co-operation and Parent Education to commence the review. The task force held a number of consultation meetings and launched public consultations in 2018 to gather opinions from stakeholders. In April 2019, the task force gave positive recognition and advised the government to foster home-school cooperation and parent education to enhance parents’ abilities in nurturing children and parenting. The task force made various recommendations including the harmonization of parent education approaches in Hong Kong, promotion of positive movements and the offering of lectures to working parents. In addition, on June 7, 2021, the Education Bureau launched a new parent education activity information website Smart Parent Net to provide parents in all levels of schools with a one-stop parent education and activity information site for improving their parenting skills. In September 2021 and December 2022, the Education Bureau launched the Curriculum Framework on Parent Education for kindergartens and primary schools respectively. These are just the beginning of parent education in Hong Kong.

Zeng Shiqiang, an expert on the Book of Changes, once joked: Failing to teach your son risks your family’s lives; failing to teach your daughter risks others. Thus, it is easy to avenge your enemy: just spoil your daughter and marry her to your enemy’s son. 

Family is the environment with which we all first come into contact. From birth till 6 years old, the impact and role of family education far exceeds that of school education and has a decisive impact on a person’s life. From 6 to 12 years old, it is not only an incubation period of problems but a key stage of psychological construction, namely moral education and learning motivation, etc.

From 12 to 14, many teenagers experience a rebellion period. From 15 to 18, issues such as academic development, value recognition, and social integration are gradually faced by the parents.

In the education system, parent education ought to be a very important part. Parent education should be our fundamental mission and a lifelong commitment!

Ting Fong-fong is the parent education director of Chinese Dream Think Tank and formerly senior lecturer, Jinan University and lecturer of Caritas courses. Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank, and a district councilor.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.