Sunday, August 30, 2015

HK Education Bureau (EDB) contacts our family--and our first 3 visits with the EDB

Many homeschoolers in Hong Kong are confused or uncertain about the Hong Kong Education Bureau (EDB)'s stance on homeschooling, and some even still incorrectly think that homeschooling in HK is illegal. I know I was very confused as I made plans to homeschool. And the prospect of notifying the EDB that we were homeschooling was a little scary.

As I know others have fears and confusion about the process, I wanted to share my experience. Hopefully it will be helpful to someone. This is just one family's experience, for what it is worth. And by telling our story, I don't mean to encourage anyone to notify the EDB of our homeschooling--my understanding from talking to officials in Hong Kong is that HK law does not require reporting. It's a personal choice. 

Here's the story, to date, of our interactions with the HK EDB.

When we withdrew our daughter from a local K3 in May 2014, we informed the principal that we would be homeschooling. In November 2013, when we turned down a P1 spot for our daughter in the local school she was accepted to, we told the principal we would be homeschooling. When the EDB called us a few months later to say they had noticed we had turned down the P1 spot for her, and they wanted to make sure we were taken care of since a spot had not been allocated at a different school, I told them we were homeschooling. But the EDB did not follow up.

Then in September of 2014, my husband interviewed two officials at the EDB in his efforts to write a newspaper article addressing the legality of Homeschooling in Hong Kong--partially just for the sake of gaining some clarity on the process for ourselves, but also to inform the rest of Hong Kong where the EDB stood. Later that day, he received an email from a different EDB employee:

...Further to your meeting with Ms Teresa CHAN and Mr Albert LEUNG this morning, it is understood that you home-school your 6-year-old child. To facilitate our follow-up of your child, I would be grateful if you could provide us with the following information: 

  1. Names and occupation of parents
  1. Contact telephone number and address
  1. Curriculum learned and assessments used at home
  1. Reasons for homeschooling

It came as no surprise to receive this email, but we were a little nervous and took our time (about 2 weeks) in responding--we wanted to be thorough. Note: others who have been more proactive about informing the EDB that they are homeschooling have received this same email, although sometimes it takes them 2 or 3 months to receive a response. 

About 2 weeks after we responded to the EDB's email, here is the response we received:

Thank you for your e-mail providing the EDB the information for the follow-up of your child.

...We would like to extend our invitation to you for a discussion meeting to enhance the mutual understanding and expectation on the issue of home schooling, as well as to share our follow-up procedures and other related issues of concern.

Details of arrangement are listed for your consideration.

Date of Meeting :  14 , 21 or 28 November 2014 (Fridays)
Time    :  around 1.5 hours  either in the am / pm session
Venue :  Hopewell Centre (Wan Chai) / Kowloon Tong Education Service Centre (Kowloon Tong)

It is grateful for your confirmation of the arrangement of the meeting.

When my husband and I went to the EDB office, we met with 2 inspectors from the "Non-Attendance Case Team". They were friendly and respectful. But they were firm in their opinion that formal schooling is by far superior to homeschooling. They could tell we were confident and committed to our decision to homeschool so they did not try to dissuade us. [Note: I have spoken to other parents who informed the EDB before they started homeschooling, and the EDB was persistent in trying to persuade them to keep their kids in school.] The inspectors seemed knowledgeable about homeschooling. Both of the them previously went on a trip to Taiwan and observed several homeschoolers with different styles (including unschooling), while they were teaching in their homes. The inspectors were very thorough. They had printed many pages of background information and samples of the curriculum that I had previously provided them a link to. They were prepared with thoughtful questions about how we use the curriculum, our daily schedule, etc. I think the meeting lasted almost 2 hours. For most of it, they were asking us questions. The last 20 minutes or so, we asked them questions. Such as, "is unschooling OK in Hong Kong?", to which they responded in the affirmative. They said they just want a thorough record to be kept so that when they come for home visits twice a year, they can review the record and see that the child "isn't just swimming all day every day" and not learning anything else. And we asked, "are homeschooling cases with locals and expats handled differently?" to which they answered "No". They said cases with locals and expats are handled the same. 

They told us they would contact us to come to our home for a visit in a few months, and they said they would visit about twice every year. That was it. There was no official approval, and no official disapproval. That's how it works in Hong Kong. They monitor homeschooling families, and as long as they do not suspect neglect, abuse, or a lack of education, the family is permitted to homeschool. The lack of an issuance of an attendance order is seen as permission to homeschool.

Soon thereafter, we set a date for them to visit our home for our first regular visit. The week of the visit, we received this email:

Thank you for your kind concern and arrangement. 

During the home visit, we would like to have more understanding on three main aspects including the arrangement of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.

We wish your child's learning schedule would be proceeded as much as usual.  It is grateful if some moments of the child's learning process could be observed, if it is ready and is comfortable to the child.  We would also like to have some time to discuss about:

  1. Timetable, Teaching/Learning schedule  
  2. Teaching aids, textbooks adopted  
  3. Worksheets, exercises used
  4. Assessment of progress of learning

and it would be favourable if some materials concerning the above areas could be collected and if some photos could be taken for record.

Thank you very much. See you on Friday.

The visit went fine. Although the inspectors did reiterate that the EDB favors traditional school to homeschooling. 

My son is under 6, so they do not review his work or ask questions about his learning yet. They focus on the education of my daughter, age 7, in our communications. I showed the inspectors the curriculum we use and they asked a lot of questions. We also went through my daughter's binder where we keep all of her school work. They wanted copies of some of her work, and took several photos of her work (after requesting my permission). They reviewed the spreadsheet I keep where I document things my daughter is learning each month. My spreadsheet lists all of the curriculum units we complete (which sometimes is only 1 or 2 per week). But I also list the other miscellaneous things my kids are learning, crafts and science experiments they do, and list all of the chapter books/novels my kids read on their own or that I/my husband read to them. Here are a few examples of other things I document on my spreadsheet:
  • She is getting quite good at adding up her score in Canasta (a card game), in her head (without using paper)--A typical score would require her to add 300 + 300 + 300 +100 + x (x=the total number of points she has earned, which requires her to add up a stack of many cards that are either 5, 10, or 20 points each)--she does this every time we play without any help. The score usually comes to somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000.
  • Attended Sunday School every Sunday.
  • Watched Nature Video: Animal Babies—showed the growing up process of baby animals including orangutangs, naked mole rats, tigers, black bears, and ibex.
  • Took care of friends' hamster while they are on vacation.
  • Went swimming multiple times. Learned to snorkel.
  • Played phone app "Stack the Countries"—learning about shapes, locations, capitals, flags, and facts about countries around the world.
  • Lots of creating/building with Minecraft computer game.
They asked if they could keep the printout of this spreadsheet.

While the inspectors were at my house, I also taught my children part of an art unit with my children (about cave art and the discovery of some ancient caves), along with an art project on sandpaper (which makes it look like cave art).

Everything with the visit was positive, until it came time to discuss the assessments we use. I explained my view that assessments were created for teachers in classrooms full of children, since the teacher couldn't possibly keep track of the progress of each child without using assessments. I explained that I am with my 2 children all day every day, and it is easy for me to track their progress. They firmly held their ground, for a while, that I needed to use some sort of assessment. And I held my ground, that I was thoroughly aware of my children's progress without a formal assessment. At one point they asked something along the lines of "but how do we know they are progressing", seeming to suggest that I should begin testing my children for the benefit of the inspectors (rather than doing what is best for my kids). Eventually, the inspectors relented by saying they could compare my spreadsheet documenting my kids' learning activities each time they visit, and see progress that way.

At one point, one inspector tried to ask my daughter a few questions. She is very shy around strangers and did not cooperate, but the inspector seemed to take it in stride.

Before leaving, the inspectors gave each of my children a small notebook and mechanical pencil--a nice gesture which my children appreciated. They left on a positive note.

Several months later, they contacted us for our 2nd home visit. After confirming the appointment time, they indicated:

During the home visit, we would like to have some time to discuss about:

1. Timetable, Teaching/Learning schedule
2. Teaching aids, learning resources adopted [note: in the past they said "textbooks"--a change to "learning resources seems positive"]
3. Worksheets, exercises used 

4. Assessment of progress of learning

We are looking forward to seeing you soon and please feel free to contact me if there is any question.

We just completed the 2nd home visit the last week of August (2015). This time, not wanting to get flustered again during a discussion about assessments, I sent an email the inspectors prior to their visit addressing the 4 points they said they would like to discuss. Although we don't use any formal assessments, when I sat down and thought about it, there are lots of things we do to notice the progress of our children. Here is what I sent them (I omitted the times for this public post):

1. Timetable, Teaching/Learning schedule  Our children are learning all day, every day—so their learning schedule is their daily schedule. Here is their daily schedule:

Around ***am, wake up

1 hour Free play (usually Legos), reading on their own, or reading with Mom

Around ***am, breakfast as a family (the children help a little with the preparation and clean up of breakfast)

After breakfast: morning scripture study as a family

Free play—about 1 hour—Legos, Minecraft, TV episode, etc.

Next few hours: learning time with Mom—sometimes do a formal lesson, read together, play outside, art/craft projects, science experiments, play games, etc.

****pm: Lunch—Dad often engages kids in a learning discussion

After lunch: More learning time with Mom—same as above. Also play educational computer games/apps such as “Brainzy”, Stack the States, and Stack the Countries.

***pm: Dinner as a family

After dinner: family time—one night per week, the kids have “one-on-one” dates with Mom and Dad—we trade kids each weeks so we each get one-on-one time with each of them; one night per week we watch a nature video together as a family; one night per week we have a “Family Home Evening” where we teach the children a values/religious lesson

Around ***pm for about 45 minutes: Read with the children as a family—usually chapter books/novels/classics, sometimes picture books

***pm (for 15 minutes)—Dad or Mom tells kids stories from their childhood

***pm bedtime

Sundays we go to church as a family for 3 hours

Once a week we go to [another town] to go to the library, sports centre, and gymnastics class, and socializing with other homeschoolers. Other days during the month, we go on a field trip or go to an activity with other homeschooling families.

Sometimes Dad takes one of the kids with him to the city to business meetings. This adds to their education of business, entrepreneurship, social interaction with adults, how to be patient through a long meeting, etc.

2. Teaching aids, learning resources adopted  We continue to use “The Family School” homeschooling curriculum for Literature, Science, History, Geography, Music, and Art

In April 2015 we began using “Life of Fred” as our Math curriculum

We have various workbooks (Scholastic, etc.)

We use a lot of online resources—especially “Brainzy” for Reading and Math and Art for Kids for drawing and painting

Lots of educational games (board games/card games and also computer games or phone/tablet apps)

Daughter attends a weekly gymnastics class and weekly piano lesson

3. Worksheets, exercises used  “The Family School” curriculum includes worksheets and exercises

The “Life of Fred” Math curriculum includes exercises

We use a lot of other resources—we make books, we have various workbooks, etc.

4. Assessment of progress of learning We have found regular written testing to be harmful to the learning of our children. Prior to entering K3 at a local kindergarten, our daughter loved learning. But excessive, not developmentally appropriate homework, along with frequent oral and written testing at the school quickly made her change her mind about how she felt about learning. We have spent the last year and a half trying to undo the damage done during her short time in a public school, largely because of assessments.

Reading assessment: during our daily scripture study, our daughter reads out loud to us each day. She reads very difficult words, and we see daily that her reading is improving. Also, we ask our daughter questions about what she is reading to ensure that she is comprehending the meaning of what she reads. In addition, Our daughter passes off levels on the Reading section of “Brainzy”.

Math assessment: After each math unit, our daughter completes the problems at the end of the chapter, either orally or in writing. We review them together. In addition, she passes off levels on the Math section of “Brainzy”.

Writing/spelling assessment: our daughter writes regularly. She writes us notes, she writes notes to her friends, and she writes emails and cards to our family in the U.S. We observe her writing regularly to ensure she is progressing in her ability to write well and her ability to spell.

Artistic Ability Assessment: We review our daughter's artwork and see constant progress in her abilities.

Science Assessment: We do experiments and I ask the kids questions to assess whether they understand what has happened and why. When we're commuting to an activity, we often play an animal guessing game where I am able to assess that they know the difference between vertebrates and invertebrates and mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and birds (we're studying zoology right now). As we go on walks and hike, I ask questions about the world around them and can see that they are learning new things all the time. There are a lot of animals that they are much more knowledgeable about than I am.

Geography Assessment: I watch the kids play “Stack the States”, and with the world map right next to our dining table, we regularly question the kids about the locations of various locations around the world.

Summary: We orally assess our children each and every day about all the topics they are learning about.

Only one of the inspectors came to this 2nd home visit--the other inspector had a last minute meeting he needed to attend. This time, my husband was home, and read to the children while I talked to the inspector. Providing the above information to the inspector prior to the visit helped the visit go much more smoothly. She asked a few questions about it, but mostly had all of the information she needed to write the report that I presume she has to complete after her visit.

Again, she reviewed the spreadsheet where I document what the kids are learning. I again gave her a copy to keep. This time she did not take any photos of my daughter's work, but asked if I would photocopy a short poem my daughter wrote and illustrated and a line of alliteration she wrote and illustrated. The inspector also reviewed the new math curriculum we started using since her last visit, and asked lots of questions about it.

At the very end, she asked to speak with my daughter, who was still reading with my husband. My daughter hid her face and refused. Then ran into her room and refused. Eventually, we got her to say a few words. The inspector seemed to take it in stride, as she was able to observe my daughter in her element, exploring the world, etc. when my daughter and husband picked the inspector up from the bus stop and walked 15 minutes together to our home.

The visit this time was much more positive than the last one. I didn't feel like there was any contention. Providing her with detailed typed up information helped a lot. This time, the inspector said they would arrange to visit our home again in 6 to 8 months. 

As mentioned previously, it is my understanding that homeschoolers are not legally required to report their homeschooling to the EDB. It is a personal decision. If you would like to notify the EDB that you are homeschooling, you can do so by sending an email to Mr. M L YAN, Inspector of Placement & Support Section, 3698 4388, You could just say something to the effect of "I wanted to notify you that I am homeschooling my _-year-old child. Please let me know if you would like any additional information...."

Are you a homeschooler in Hong Kong who been in contact with the EDB? If so, I'd love to hear your experience. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Updated Information about the Legality of Homeschooling in Hong Kong

Visit for a brief summary of the legality of homeschooling in Hong Kong. This information was written by 2 different parents who live and homeschool in Hong Kong who have met with staff at the Education Bureau (EDB): Cam Cheung and Joshua Steimle.

New SCMP article on Homeschooling in HK

This article is written by a homeschooling Dad in Hong Kong. He met with the EDB prior to writing the article and discusses what he learned about the legality of homeschooling in Hong Kong.

Friday, August 15, 2014

"We Need Choices" Education Conference in Hong Kong, October 11-12, 2014

A great conference, "We Need Choices", will be hosted by EDiversity on October 11-12, 2014. This conference is all about education choices in Hong Kong, and how to improve those choices. It is for parents, educators, and anyone interested in the education of children. There will be accomplished presenters from HK, the US, Norway, Finland, Taiwan, China, etc. More information about the schedule and presenters is available here. Sessions will be given in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. 

An early bird ticket price is available through August 31st.

TEDx talk on Homeschooling given in Hong Kong by Joshua Steimle

Joshua Steimle, a homeschooling dad who lives in Hong Kong, gave a TEDx talk on Homeschooling on May 31, 2014. You can view it here:

Connecting with Other Parents Homeschooling in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Homeschool Meetup Group

The Meetup group is for families with children ages 3 and up who are currently homeschooling and are already living in Hong Kong. The group gets together several times each month. If your child isn't yet 3 or if you don't yet live in Hong Kong, you can contact the admins with questions, but you can't actually join the group until you meet those 2 criteria. 

When you apply to be a member, you will be given information on how to attend one of the monthly parent coffee nights so that an admin can meet you in person. 

Facebook Groups:

If you know of other Meetup groups, co-ops, etc., please list them in the comments below!

HK Education Bureau Contact Information

The government agency over education in Hong Kong is the "Education Bureau". 


The EDB has asked that contact regarding homeschooling matters be directed to Mr. M L YAN, Inspector of Placement and Support Section, 852 3698 4388,