Driven by her belief in the transformation that a good teacher can do to a child, Christine Ma founded JEMS Learning House, an English-speaking, after-school learning community that focuses on Character Education for children up to the age of 12. Through the unique curriculum that covers three key learning areas – starting with identity, and then onto relationships, and the community, children are inspired and trained to become “Junior Excellent Members of Society”.
When Christine was in Grade 1, her mother was asked to go to the school to see the teacher; however, what the teacher wanted to tell Mrs. Linda Ma was that Christine was a slow learner. “In all aspects – the teacher said.” Both Linda and Christine were laughing when they were telling us about this “memorable” experience which has significantly contributed to the passion, vision and mission of Christine today.
Christine’s father was later employed by a bank in the United Kingdom and the whole family had to relocate. Christine started her studies at a new school in England. On the first day of school, Christine’s teacher asked each student to write down 3 strengths and 3 weaknesses. Christine had no problems in writing down a list of her weaknesses, but for strengths, she had no clue. The teacher looked at her and said, “Christine, you can’t think of anything that you are good at? There are many things I’ve noticed that you are good at.” Christine could not forget the moment that the teacher thoroughly made a list of the strengths that Christine possessed but had never known about herself. Christine was enlightened. She became confident and made excellent progress in her studies. In fact, Christine has never failed to achieve good grades since then. She graduated from the London School of Economics with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Philosophy, which meant that she was ready to become a good banker, even a significant figure in the finance industry, like her father Mr. Frederick Ma; but Christine’s passion has always been in education.
Driven by her belief in the transformation that a good teacher can do to a child, she furthered her studies at the University of Pennsylvania and obtained a Master’s Degree in Education with a concentration in Child Development. After teaching students aged 6 to 16 years in different educational institutions in Hong Kong, Christine decided that she would devote herself to the moral education of children and founded JEMS Learning House, an English-speaking, after-school learning community that focuses on Character Education for children up to the age of 12.
Christine believes that education should go beyond an acquisition of knowledge. Education should enable children to develop and fulfill their true potential, equip them with values and prepare them to be positive role-models in society. Character, morals and values prepare and assist children in making decisions in life. Christine explains, “Many may be very knowledgeable but it is their character that will determine how that knowledge is used. For example, knowledge in the sciences can be used to create medicine to heal or a drug to destroy.”
“JEMS” stands for “Junior Excellent Member of Society”. How can we train kids to become “JEMS”? The Character Education curriculum used in JEMS, developed by Christine, comprises of moral, social and civic education. Inspired by her own personal experience, Christine realized that it is important for a child to identify their individuality; therefore the foundation of the JEMS programme starts with “identity”. It is based on the sense of identity that a child can develop social skills to build solid relationships, and then reach out to serve the community. The unique curriculum at JEMS covers three key learning areas that are taught progressively starting with the child’s identity, and then onto close relationships, and the community.
Christine’s students are living proof of her vision. Stephanie (an alias), a 12-year-old, shared her experience as follows: “When I was first sent to JEMS, I was regarded as a bully at school. My peers did not like me and I did not enjoy school either. I will never forget the first class at JEMS when Christine taught us to identify our uniqueness through fun games, activities, reflections and self-exploration. I suddenly realized how unhappy I had been. All I cared about every moment of every day was to compare myself with my brother and sister, who have always been regarded as good kids. I had a lot of anger and I needed to let go of it – getting on people’s nerves was the way I chose to ‘relieve’ myself. However, it did nothing but make me unpopular.”
After one year at JEMS, Stephanie is now a confident and happy girl who has no hesitation in sharing her feelings with us. As emphasized by Christine, the turning point for Stephanie was the moment she understood her uniqueness and who she really was. On Parents’ Day, Stephanie’s mother was overjoyed to be informed by the class teacher that her daughter was no longer creating any problems at school; in fact, she had become someone who was actively helping people!
As for Lambert (an alias), who is an exceptionally gifted child with an IQ of over 150, he had always been regarded as extremely bright but also a headache for teachers at school – he always wanted things his way and was unwilling to listen and follow others’ instructions. Christine fell in love with this piece of dazzling gem, and successfully brought out his inner beauty by turning his “hyperactivity” into a sense of responsibility and capability. Lambert was assigned a number of important tasks in the preparation and execution of the annual graduation ceremony cum fundraising bazaar, which he joyfully, skillfully and intelligently accomplished, driven by his passion for raising funds to help the underprivileged children of SoCO.
Character Education cannot be achieved overnight. The annual programme of JEMS uses the Theory into Practice Model of Learning to enhance students’ learning experience. Not only does JEMS provide theoretical information, the Learning House also stresses the importance of experimental learning, analysis of the experience and real life application to inspire the children to become “Junior Excellent Members of Society” who are confident, responsible, compassionate and ready to serve the community. Christine says, “It is with this sense of responsibility that a child is driven to perform their best, to cherish their family, friends and other people in society with compassion, and to make the world a better place.” Children with the proper values are given the key to true excellence that will last a lifetime.