Many of us take our schools for granted. It was a place we had to go to as children, similar to our parents having to get up to get to their work places. It was just something we did – no questions asked. We never had to actively think about it. School is a different experience for each person, and as they say, it is what you make of it.
I went to school in two countries: Hong Kong for my early education and then Australia after fifth grade. The two education systems were like chalk and cheese back then. I can’t say for sure that I enjoyed school very much in Hong Kong. I was not a very good student, owed largely to my laziness in a system where studying hard was considered better than studying smart. I got “in trouble” more often than was considered acceptable which was not hard because we were not allowed to talk in class and if you were caught speaking Cantonese during English class, that was automatically a reportable offense.
Looking back now, I can laugh about those incidents. I was caught chatting with my classmate more than once but that hasn’t turned me into a serial killer. I received detention a couple of times (I cannot even remember the reasons but most likely for talking in class – again – or forgetting to do my homework or some such), a secret that I managed to hide from my parents for about twenty years. I remember very clearly my second grade maths teacher making the whole class repeat the word “quotient” about fifty times because we had forgotten what it meant.
When my family left Hong Kong to come to Australia, it was to offer my sister and I a better future. School could not have been more different from what I had known for the previous seven years. Our teachers encouraged creativity – we painted and wove baskets and made ridiculous keyholders (which I needed Dad’s help with). We ran in the playground (I fell over because I have two left feet) and played handball (challenging the boys). In sixth grade, I was part of the school radio broadcast where we read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach over the PA system to the entire school. It was magical. Grades mattered but were not the most important part of our school-life.
As an adult, I sometimes think about my school days, thinking how simple life was back then – the decisions we had to make as children on a daily basis were probably only a tiny fraction of what goes through our brains from the moment we open our eyes each morning. That is how privileged most of us are. But for millions of children who live in war-torn countries or in communities where they have to start working from the time they are old enough to walk, simply being able to go to school is a luxury they can only dream about.
UNICEF recently launched a campaign called “#EmergencyLessons: My School Photo”. Through this campaign, we learn that, of the estimated 580,000 children affected by the conflict in East Ukraine, approximately 78,000 have now been enrolled into new schools. They also encourage us to show our support by sharing our own school photos and experiences.
As a UNICEF UK Ambassador, British actor Tom Hiddleston (you may know him as Loki, “God of Mischief”, in the Thor movies), shared a photo of him as a four year-old.
After watching these videos, I decided to share my own school photo – it was one taken with one of my best friends, Lena, in our school library shortly before our high school graduation. Along with that photo, I also shared one taken recently, being just as silly and dorky as when we first met over twenty-eight years ago. School, to me, was not only a place for learning, but also a place where lasting friendships have been made, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Now, I look forward to seeing your school photos with the #EmergencyLessons hashtag on social media. And I would love to hear your favourite school memories.
Oh, and for the record, “quotient” is the result of division.
Happy learning! xox