Header image courtesy of Mi Pham (via Unsplash)
Originally published by Sarah Moran. Last updated by Kopal Manglik.
Searching for schools and learning programmes for your kids can be a daunting task in Hong Kong. With limited schools and an increasing number of students, the city’s mainstream education is notorious for its rigid, high-pressure, and competitive environment. Academic competition can begin as early as pre-kindergarten, where children start learning all sorts of skills to become competitive applicants for the best kindergartens. However, there are several forward-thinking schools in Hong Kong that offer alternative education programmes that go against the conventional way of teaching, and strive to make learning both effective and enjoyable for your children.
Hong Kong Forest Adventures offers a bilingual, outdoor nature-based developmental programme for toddlers and young children. Its alternative education programme does not follow a particular curriculum—instead, it is completely play-based and child-led, with the motto of “get out of the way of children.”
Rather than teaching tangible knowledge such as languages or maths, the programme focuses on boosting the sensory and motor development of a child. Through activities such as climbing trees, finding worms, making mud cakes, and climbing over rocks, children can learn to become more resilient, imaginative, and patient.
Hong Kong Forest Adventures, 12D Tai Shui Hang North Road, Tai Shui Hang | (+852) 5238 2377
With a 40-year history of operating in Hong Kong, the Woodland Montessori Pre-School has established itself as one of the best pre-school groups in Hong Kong. Accredited by the Montessori Evaluation and Accreditation Board (MEAB), the schools approach teaching with their own philosophy, whereby each child is encouraged to develop at their own pace within a safe, caring, and structured environment.
Children of different ages learn in the same classroom, working individually or in groups, providing younger students with role models for imitation, and giving older children an opportunity to reinforce their own knowledge by helping younger pupils. Classes are taught in English, Mandarin, or both, with a strong emphasis on self-directed learning, which is supplemented by teachers directing each child only when needed.
While there are several schools that provide education for children with alternative learning needs, Watchdog Early Education Centre serves kids in their key developmental stage: pre-school. With programmes in both English and Cantonese, they provide assessment and training for students, working closely with parents and caregivers to ensure that their students receive well-rounded development in speech and language, physical, intellectual and social aspects, ideally preparing them for entry into the mainstream school system.
JEMS Character Academy is an after-school, English-speaking learning community that focuses on character education for children up to 12 years old. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr, who quoted that “intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education,” JEMS believes that each child has the ability to be a Junior Excellent Member of Society (JEMS) with high intelligence, as well as a strong character and values.
Its alternative curriculum covers three key areas: identity development, relationship building, and community service. Lessons are taught through a variety of developmentally appropriate activities, including role-plays, performances, interactive discussions, and more.
JEMS Character Academy, 5/F, China Hong Kong Tower, 8–12 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai | (+852) 3188 1516
Incorporating the Waldorf education in its curriculum, the Forest House Waldorf School strives to nurture Hong Kong primary school children through their physical, emotional, and intellectual development using a diversified approach. Forest House Waldorf School teaches traditional academic subjects through a curriculum appropriate for the different stages of child development and learning styles. With an extensive Mandarin teaching staff, they also provide your little ones with the all-rounded training they need to succeed in our globalised world.
Forest House Waldorf School, Commercial Area, Floral Villas, 18 Tso Wo Road, Sai Kung | (+852) 2792 6055
If you are keen to continue your children’s education within the Montessori system, International Montessori School (IMS) is Hong Kong’s first accredited elementary Montessori school. With its dual English and Mandarin programme, it caters to students between the ages of six and 12 by focusing on the five great lessons of Montessori—an integrated approach designed to intrigue the child, spark the imagination, and delight the developing reasoning mind of elementary students.
IMS makes use of hands-on learning to help create motivated and inquisitive learners. Walk into the classroom during a work cycle or a dedicated study period and you will be sure to find it buzzing with hives of activity!
HKRSS Tai Po Secondary School is a local, Chinese-medium secondary school known for its outstanding work in catering to students with special needs as well as those with none. HKRSS strives to provide as many choices as it can for its students, ensuring that no child is left behind. More than a hundred students diagnosed with a special learning disability—ranging from autism and ADHD to dyslexia and speech delay—attend HKRSS, along with students without any special needs, allowing them to integrate into a positive environment.
The dedicated teaching staff offer a comprehensive and inclusive curriculum that empowers students of various abilities to learn at their own pace. In an interview with SCMP, vice-principal Franky Poon once said, “Being part of the public education system, we believe that schools should not turn students away because they don’t measure up in terms of the standard academic system—that is simply wrong. School is a reflection of society. All of our students have a role to play, and they enrich each other’s learning experience and personal journey.”
Hong Kong Red Swastika Society (HKRSS) Tai Po Secondary School, Fu Heng Estate, Tai Po | (+852) 2666 6821
Parents can look towards Think Global School, a travelling high school that spends each semester in four different countries, for a truly unique education. As a highly selective schooling programme, Think Global School embodies the belief that exposure to different cultures and people can help students become compassionate individuals who are curious and knowledgeable about the world and motivated to affect meaningful change.
In a span of just three years, students have the opportunity to study in locations such as Botswana, Oman, Japan, China, Greece, Panama, Ecuador, and more, gaining a unique perspective while engaging in project-based learning to help solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Think Global School prepares its students for university applications, and many alumni have not only continued on to study at prestigious universities around the world, but have also taken their place as thoughtful, accomplished global citizens.
Known for their award-winning STEMinn programme—which combines the teaching principles of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) with a focus on innovation—Stamford American School begins inculcating unconventional thinking and developing higher-order thinking skills at the tender age of five.
As part of their alternative education curriculum, children will also have access to cutting-edge technology, including 3-D printers, drone kits, and augmented reality, to assist them during their design thinking projects, which have previously included creating solar ovens and even life-sized boats! Graduates of Stamford receive an American diploma and can take the IB diploma, thus preparing them for university life and beyond.
Stamford American School, 25 Man Fuk Road, Ho Man Tin | (+852) 3467 4500
While less popular in Hong Kong than abroad, home-schooling is a great option for parents looking for specialised education. In Hong Kong, it is required by law that all students aged six to 15 must attend school, and as long as you inform the Education Bureau—who may conduct occasional home visits—home-schooling is perfectly legal.
Home-schooling poses a number of challenges, but with a customisable curriculum, holistic development, and personal attention, there are also a great number of benefits. Fortunately, there are resources available for parents planning on home-schooling in Hong Kong, including Facebook groups and meet-up groups. Learning is not confined to a building and this growing trend might be the ideal alternative education option for your little one!