Record: Gina Riley, “Unschooling in Hong Kong: A Case Study” Journal of Unschooling and Alternative Learning, 10, No. 20 (2016): 1-15. [Full Article]

Summary: Gina Riley is an educational psychologist and Clinical Professor of Adolescent Special Education at Hunter College. In this article she discusses the experiences of Karen Chow, an unschooling mother in Hong Kong.

Homeschooling is not illegal in Hong Kong, but it is certainly not encouraged either. Currently if a family would like to homeschool, the parents must contact the Educational Bureau of Hong Kong (EDB) who will decide on a case-by-case basis whether the family can provide a balanced education for their children. Then this permission must be renewed every 3-6 months. Furthermore, it is common for educational officers to regularly contact and visit the households of homeschooling families. Allegedly there were between 18 and 25 homeschooling families in Hong Kong in 2014.

If homeschooling is rare, unschooling, an unstructured variation on homeschooling in which learning happens naturalistically, is even rarer. Especially in Hong Kong, unschooling is considered quite risky, and families must provide a great amount of documentation to prove that their child is learning appropriately. Currently there are at least 6 families who unschool to some degree in Hong Kong.

As mentioned, this article tells the story of Karen Chow, an unschooling mother and the founder of EDiversity.org, which focuses on the rethinking of education in Hong Kong. Chow is well-educated, and she has experience as a teacher in traditional schools. After the oldest of her two daughters had some negative experiences in preschool and kindergarten, the Chow family removed her from schooling and, “[they] just let her play every day. And then over the next few month’s time, [they] found that she acquired various skills very well and could learn many things on her own. Also, she became more relaxed and happy as months go by. So [they] just continued to unschooling.” While Chow and her husband may suggest activities to their daughters, the girls can decide whether they want to pursue those activities or something else.

During two home visits in 2014, Educational Bureau officers expressed doubts towards the idea of unschooling and threatened that the Chow’s children may have to return to traditional schools in the future. Chow suspects that the officers’ doubts derive from the culture there that emphasizes teaching, following authority, and outstanding performances at an early age. By spreading awareness through her website, this article, and interviews with major television programs, Chow hopes that worries about unschooling and self-directed learning will diminish over time. In any case, the TV program about her family aroused heated discussion in Hong Kong.

Chow says that her greatest challenge is a lack of support, sometimes even from the inner selves of she and her husband. With this Chow is referring to the difficulty that she and her husband sometimes face to de-learn the attitudes they acquired from their traditional Chinese families and education. Thankfully, they feel that the Educational Bureau of Hong Kong (EDB) is becoming more accepting of homeschooling over time. Two officers attended an alternative education conference at the University of Hong Kong, and in recent months, senior officers of the EDB have lengthened the time between home visits and called the Chows “positive parents” and role models for some of the families that they have recently allowed to begin homeschooling.

Appraisal: One typically attempts to understand a movement through its founders, and for homeschooling and unschooling in Hong Kong, Karen Chow is certainly a leader. While Riley’s questioning of her could have gone a bit deeper (i.e., how did the Chows learn of unschooling?), the article overall is interesting given that it complements our understanding of homeschooling in China and unschooling as a global movement. With the greater influence that the Chinese government is now wielding in Hong Kong, I have to wonder whether there has been any effort to close the homeschooling loophole and unify the educational policy with that of Mainland China’s.

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