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Global Childhoods, Asian Lifeworlds: After School Time in Hong Kong

Nicola Yelland, Sandy Muspratt, Caja Gilbert


In this paper, we explore the after-school lives of six-year-old children in Hong Kong, as reported by their parents in response to survey questions. Popular discourse presents a view of Asian students as diligent and hardworking, living lives that are predominantly characterized by studying, both in school and out. Yet we were aware that while there are many studies about this that focus on Asian minorities living in western countries, there is limited empirical data about Asian students living in Asian countries. Moreover, those findings are mainly about upper elementary and high school students. Accordingly, in order to broaden the body of inquiring concerning whether Asian students do in fact spend much of their time studying and little engaged in leisure activities, we sought to collect empirical data regarding how Primary 1 (six-year-old) students in Hong Kong spend their out-of-school time. Increasingly, there is a recognition that Asian students perform well on high-stakes international tests, and it is widely held that this is because they allocate so much time to intensive academic study in contrast to their western counterparts, both in and out of school. Tutoring in test-taking is a multimillion dollar industry. We wanted to know if this is a widespread phenomenon. In this paper we show that the out-of-school lives of the students who were the subject of our survey include many different activities. While the six-year-olds in our study do homework after school, they also watch TV, participate in activities with computers and other new technologies, and engage in indoor and outdoor play.

As educators and parents, we want to ensure that children make the best use of their time, so we put a lot of ours into planning and preparing activities for them to take part in, both in and out of school. One of the consequences of this is that children living in the 21st century don't have much free-choice time (Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001). Instead, their lives are structured in very specific ways that have been designed by adults. This seems to be particularly true for Asian children, whose excellence in performance in international tests is often attributed to their strong work ethic as well as to their capacity for studying for many hours, both in and out of school.