Schools in the sky

A New Direction's CEO, Steve Moffitt, reflects on ten days spent with Arts For Transformational Education Change in Hong Kong

6 June 2023

In the first two weeks of May 2023, I was invited by Lynn Yau CEO of AFTEC (the Absolutely Fabulous Theatre Education Connection or also known as Arts For Transformational Education Change) to spend 10 days with her and her team in Hong Kong. AFTEC is a small not-for-profit set up around the time we set up A New Direction, that produces bilingual theatre performances for young people alongside an ambitious Creative Learning programme that uses the Habits of Mind and the concept of creative classrooms as a framework to deliver a three-year programme of work between Creative Practitioners, Teachers and children. Totally student-centred and focused on the "5 Cs" of educating young people – Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Contribution to Social Capital.

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There is no better way to understand a place than to visit its schools. Schools are everywhere in every city and are always at the heart of their communities. They provide an insight into a place, revealing its priorities for its children and an understanding of what is important in terms of learning. I was privileged to be welcomed by several Schools including YOT Tin Ka Ping Primary School, Tuen Mun Government School, St Rose of Lima School, Sun Kei Primary School, Lee Kam Primary School and HKBUAS Wong Kan Fai Primary School. What I saw in various classrooms across the city were children and teachers actively engaged in their learning, collaborating in new ways, testing practice, and building a shared understanding and vocabulary around creative learning practice. I also got to travel across the whole of Hong Kong which was fun and exciting.

My focus was to observe AFTECs Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust-funded Arts Based Cross-Curricular Learning Project. Whilst I was there I would visit five schools, meet a range of individuals and organisations, and contribute a keynote to their Knowledge Exchange Symposium. The Symposium was a two-day event to share the learning of the programme, and involve a selection of stakeholders sharing their learning and debating the value of the work and how best to move forward. What became apparent during the two-day conference was how different the Arts Based Cross Curriculum work was in comparison to the practice and offer of most art organisations in Hong Kong. AFTEC is leading the way with this work and is a pioneer in the field. With Hong Kong being positioned as a Cultural Hub across Southeast Asia and the government committing to relaxing the curriculum during the afternoon at Primary level there is a significant opportunity for artists and cultural organisations to explore new ways of working and finding different ways to collaborate. AFTEC has also uncovered a range of creative practitioners who are interested in finding new meaning to their work, artists, architects, furniture makers and theatre practitioners keen to contribute and learn.

I have known Lynn for the last 12 years. When she visits London, she often checks in to see what we are doing at A New Direction. Her curiosity and passion for Creative Partnerships and her commitment to the opportunity for every child to enjoy and experience a creative and cultural education is impressive. She is a tenacious, ambitious and maverick individual keen to make a change in her community and I was very flattered to be asked to be part of her organisation’s life for 10 days. Lynn has created a great team around her, and the Arts Based Cross Curriculum Programme is a clear strong piece of work that is generating a new energy and enthusiasm for Creative Learning across Hong Kong.

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A highlight of the trip was working alongside Kittikorn Hongyim. Kittikorn is a high school science teacher and educator based in Thailand. He was the other international keynote at the Knowledge Exchange. He is a teacher and advisor with a focus around training teachers around Creativity. He has worked closely with the Thai Ministry of Education, The Institute for the Promotion of Teaching Science and Technology (IPST), the Equitable Education Fund (EEF), and the Future Skill Foundation. One of the many partners he has worked with is Creativity, Culture and Education and he spoke very fondly and proudly of his association with Paul Collard and Di Fisher Naylor. Through these partnerships, he has advanced his teaching practice but has an overview of the latest developments in the field, ultimately enabling him to better serve his students and help them reach their full potential. I was impressed with his detailed observation of what he saw in the various classrooms we visited. His notes in the tiniest and most beautiful of notebooks were impeccable, accurate and precisely written. He is one of the many international advocates for creative education emerging across the world and at the age of 29 I was so impressed with his humility, cleverness, generosity, and kindness.

I loved Hong Kong. It was a real pleasure being 'present' in a new place and looking at work and meeting new people. I loved the food, the MTR, (the equivalent of the London Underground) the noise and the bustle. Also, the architecture. Everything is so tall and high. Even the schools are in the sky. There was such a strong intention to everything I saw. I applaud the focus of AFTECs work to explore empathy, pupil voice, the teacher as a learner and cross-curricular collaboration as part of an emerging cultural education ecology. I met some generous creative practitioners who work in all sorts of contexts. So interesting and such a privilege. The whole experience was rejuvenating and refreshing.