SCMP Saturday, September 15, 2001

Pupils blur fact and fiction in US horror


Although many students were moved to tears by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the horror had little impact on others, say teachers and students.
Far from appreciating the gravity and possible repercussions of events which seem likely to have left almost 5,000 people dead, some children at one secondary school went as far as reducing it to a game of charades during an orientation session.
The terrible events were raised in many assemblies and classes and some local and international school students placed flowers outside the US Consulate in Central. But Mak Chen Wen-ling, principal of Queen Elizabeth School Old Students' Association Secondary School in Tin Shui Wai, was shocked to watch Form One students, who mimed the attack, greeted with claps and laughter as children guessed the scene being acted out.
Elsewhere in Hong Kong, some students said the tragedy was too far removed to be of interest. They also said that schools, too, had only paid limited attention to it. "It is just a game for them," Ms Mak said.
She was personally touched by Tuesday's events when she was unable to reach her sister, who worked in the World Trade Centre, until the day after two hijacked planes crashed into its towers. Her sister was not in the building.
The Government has positioned Hong Kong as an international city but Ms Mak questioned whether an education system in which humanities and social justice were rarely addressed could produce young people with sufficient global concern.
At her school, a sharing session was held on Wednesday. News clips prepared by teachers were broadcast in every classroom. But Ms Mak said the horror had little impact on many students. "They were saddened for a while by the killings and the destruction. But they did not go further in asking why it happened and its implications for the whole world."
At CCC Heep Woh College, a sharing session was also held, and some teachers went to their classes early in order to talk to students. But principal Evelyn Lam Yee-wah said she did not force staff to dwell on the issue. "There is lots of work for teachers to do at the beginning of term. It also depends on whether they themselves understand the issues," she said.
One Form Four student at St Louis Secondary School said he was not interested in the news because it was too far from home. His concern was its impact on the money markets. "I know the stock market will tumble and people will lose lots of money," he said. The broader issue was only raised in his English lesson, when students were asked to surf the Internet to find news about it, he said.
Form Six student Bjorn Hor Him-shun was eager to know more. "But many of my classmates viewed the event as little more than watching a Hollywood movie," he said.
Teresa Chai Yip Wai-lin, deputy head of the Centre for Citizenship Education at Hong Kong Institute of Education, said that Hong Kong's exam-oriented curriculum left little room for essential civic and values lessons. "Teachers are always in a hurry to finish their set syllabus. It is extremely difficult for them to reschedule lesson time for values education and current affairs," she said.
The different responses of students reflected varying maturity levels, said Professor Hau Kit-tai, head of Department of Educational Psychology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. This was influenced by the environment in which they grew up.
"Many primary and secondary school students cannot comprehend what 'war' and 'peace' mean and teachers have to use the terms such as 'fights' and 'arguments' instead," he said. "It is natural for some youngsters to have deep feelings for the incident while others feel far removed from it," said Professor Hau. He added that role-playing was an excellent technique to increase maturity levels.
But Thomas Tse Kwan-choi, assistant professor of education at Chinese University of Hong Kong, said it was too demanding to expect teachers to analyse the event with students. He suggested that schools invite experts to talk about issues such as international conflict and terrorism.