Featured on the Hong Kong Economic Journal (January 17, 2019)
Yesterday was an emotional day for me. My two and a half year old son attended class at my learning centre for the first time. And it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
When I founded JEMS ten years ago, I had not imagined this day would come. At the time, I didn’t have children, wasn’t even married nor dating. I founded JEMS with the vision and passion of seeing children develop their character values. As Martin Luther King Jr. said “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”. We don’t just want to raise children who are intellectually smart but morally weak; rather that their moral strength would enable them to best use their intellectual capacities. As the Chinese phrase goes, ‘品學________’ – we strive to have children thrive in both their character and academics.
So, ten years ago, I zealously started writing curriculum and opening a centre that would focus on cultivating children’s character and values such as responsibility, respect and compassion. I still remember when I first started, some people lauded it as a noble cause but others questioned whether it was a viable, or even necessary, endeavor to take on. “Aren’t parents supposed to teach these things?” “Who’s going to spend time and money to have their children learn these soft skills?” “I never went to a centre to learn these things. Why should my kids?” Despite all the, perhaps well meaning, challenges, I went ahead with faith believing that this is what children need to learn and if children are going to classes to learn how to speak better, calculate faster, play instruments better and memorise more, then why not a place to learn to be better people?
So, the journey started a decade ago. And I’m pleased to share that we have been able to help countless children and their families in their journey of character education. We have seen students grow in their sense of responsibility, their compassion for their community and their sense of courage and values. And we continue to grow in our size and impact and there’s nothing that makes me happier than seeing children thrive.
And so yesterday, my son had the privilege of benefitting from this education. Many people have asked me why I would send my son to JEMS. “Can’t you teach him yourself?” “Why does he need it if he’s learning at home?” I’d like to state my reasons here. Of course I’m teaching him these character values myself and at home but that’s also what we’re expecting from every other parent who sends their kids to JEMS. JEMS isn’t a replacement for parenting nor an outsourced centre to teach character. Parents have the primary responsibility of instilling positive values in their children and if parents aren’t being role models and active educators in their child’s character development, children lack this area of development. But saying that, parents aren’t the only character educators. Every person in a child’s life teaches him lessons in character – whether good or bad. So JEMS is a partner to parents who also value these character virtues because it takes a village to raise a child. The more people in my village who ‘speak’ the same values as me, the more likely my child will absorb, internalise and live out those values., And that’s ultimately my goal.
Additionally, so many relational character virtues such as respect, sharing, teamwork and friendship have to be learnt in a social context so being in an environment where he’s with peers who are learning the same positive values is necessary. Plus it’s an added bonus when he has so much fun that he told me during our bedtime talk that he wants to “sleep at JEMS”.
So, who’s in your child’s village? Build a village for your child that collectively speaks the same positive character values and you’ll find that your child will speak that language himself soon.