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Creative touch

Published on Friday, 13 Sep 2013
Joanna Hotung
Photo: Sky Lip

Joanna Hotung’s KG Group gets aces for imaginative teaching

The Hotung family is known for its contributions to education. One member by marriage, Joanna Hotung, is particularly keen on providing inspiring and creative education to complement the local curriculum, which tends to focus on rote learning.

Like most parents, Hotung is concerned about giving her two daughters the right guidance to help them succeed. When she took them to kindergarten, she found the school offered very little room for innovation.

“I appreciate the discipline of the Chinese education system. It teaches children the importance of respect and following instructions, but it leaves kids with little room to express their own ideas,” Hotung says.

“My elder daughter told me the teacher did not allow her to paint an elephant orange. Another teacher said she would help my younger daughter write with her right hand but she is a natural lefty,” she adds.

The rigid mode of learning at local schools led Hotung to think there was a gap in the children’s education market – teaching that inspires creativity.

“In 1996, I founded Kids’ Gallery to provide creative arts education. A lot of the art taught in Hong Kong is prescriptive. A child will come away from school with a perfect replica of the real thing, having no say in the creative process. I want to get children to think for themselves,” she says.

“We sometimes encourage children to spread paint all over the desk and they look at us like we’ve gone mad, but once they get the green light, there’s no stopping them. I get parents coming up to me saying: ‘That’s worse than what they do at school!’ Or ‘He’s painted the sky green!’ The point is it doesn’t matter if it’s not finished or realistic; it’s the fact the child has been involved from the beginning and has made their own decisions about what goes into it,” Hotung says.

 The teaching philosophy of Kids’ Gallery has been well-received, growing from a single classroom in Central to a multi-disciplinary education business, the KG Group. It used to be more popular among expatriate families but is now gaining support from locals. “When I first started, most students were expatriates, now around 60 per cent are local,” says Hotung.

She says one of her keys to success in business management is not to grow too fast. “My second branch of the group, Star English, was founded in 2006, 10 years after Kids’ Gallery. I usually begin with one classroom, and then as I have more demand, I open a second classroom. I go step by step. Education should not be too commercial. I focus on doing things well rather than on quick expansion.”

Hotung says many parents face a dilemma when choosing classes – they want kids to do what they enjoy, and to also improve academically.

“Parents have come to me saying they want to sign their children up for art classes because they enjoy art and they see the benefits, but they also want them to do maths, an important academic subject,” she says.

“I don’t believe in over-scheduling so I might advise doing one at a time – art for the first term and maths for the second, or have a good mix of academic and interest courses.

“Nowadays, parents often sign kids up for everything and that is a huge amount of stress. The key to letting students develop is not to overwhelm them with too many classes but to concentrate on the ones they really enjoy or benefit from,” she says.

As an education provider, Hotung’s aim is to develop children’s love for learning. The KG Group serves mostly middle-to-upper class families, and Hotung has seen many parents putting pressure on children.

“I recently attended an educational seminar and was shocked to hear that 20 per cent of school children have mental illness because of stress from parents and school.

“I understand parents are very committed to, and do not mind investing in, their kids’ education. But don’t stress them too much. Don’t feel your child will be less competitive because they did not do a course everyone else is doing. Treat your child as an individual and let them have a happy, healthy childhood,” she says.

One common misconception among parents is that encouraging kids to go ahead of normal schedules will make them successful.

 “Parents want kids to do things ahead of their age, but I believe that brings no benefits. When my daughter went to boarding school in Britain, she had the choice to go ahead one year or redo the year due to different cut-off dates. I chose to let her redo the year as she was going to a foreign place and needed time to settle down.

“She had less pressure and that helped her adjust academically and emotionally to a new environment – best educational decision I made for her,” says Hotung.

KG Group’s newest development, Mills International Preschool kindergarten in Yau Tong, began operating in late August. “My experience has taught me the importance of arousing students’ interest in learning. It is best to start at a young age. If kids are motivated to love school when young, they can excel in any discipline when they grow up,” Hotung says.


Johanna Hotung’s five tips for inspiring children
Mixing it Mix academics with fun. When choosing extra-curricular programmes, don’t push them to do only academic courses, let them enjoy learning things they love.
Suitability Find out your children’s learning style and enrol them in courses that suit that style.
Reading time Encourage children to read. Read to them and set a good example by reading regularly yourself and filling your home with books.
Inspiring ideas Let children be bored, inspire them to devise ideas to entertain themselves. Don’t entertain them passively with smartphones or tablet computers.
Easing off Don’t push children ahead, let them behave as they should at their age.

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