Flora Mak reviews a theoretical and practical summary of promoting a healthy school framework in Hong Kong.

Robin Cheung, Amelia Lo, Vera Keung, and Amy Kwong, Leading Healthy and Thriving Schools in Hong Kong: Theory and Practice (City University of Hong Kong Press, 2020), 167pp.

Quality education is one of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. How should Hong Kong meet this goal, where the defects of the school reform of the last two decades are gradually revealing themselves in the form of a one-sided pursuit of academic excellence that causes increasing stress and mental issues among students? Leading Healthy and Thriving Schools in Hong Kong: Theory and Practice takes the WHO’s probe of a healthy school setting and preaches it as “a timely, pragmatic, viable, and professional choice for school leaders in Hong Kong, and many other developed places” (xxxvii). According to the Centre for Health Education and Health Promotion of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHEHP), by definition, “a health promoting school is a place where all members of the school community work together to provide students with integrated and positive experiences and structures which promote and protect their health.” With real life anecdotes and an insider’s understanding about school management, the book is a pragmatic exposition and testimony that invites more visionary educators to return to the fundamental goal of education, the holistic development of individuals, from the perspective of health.

The main author, Dr. Robin Cheung, is a former school principal who has solid experience of successfully promoting health as an “all embracing framework” under the Hong Kong Healthy School Award Scheme by the CHEHP and is now continually in support of its vision as a consultant and researcher (5). Combining theory and practice, he justifies, contextualizes and recommends the suitable approaches and steps of implementing the healthy school framework. With an eye on the workplace dynamics in schools, it is appropriate to say that his primary audience is fellow school leaders and government officials. The other authors, namely Amelia Lo, Vera Keung and Amy Kwong, come from the CHEHP, which has been championing the healthy school concept for twenty years. The collaboration of educators and researchers explain the comprehensiveness of this book in substantializing the healthy school concept with regard to different aspects of school management.  

The book consists of eight chapters and four appendices. The main body of the book delineates the rationale, context and approach towards implementing the healthy school framework from relevant research and the experiences of local educators. Among the appendices is the experience sharing of seven Hong Kong school principals who have gained considerable success in the venture and therefore interviewed for this book. They headed schools of different academic levels, including a kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and a special needs school.

The book puts forth schools’ social responsibility to create a healthy learning environment and explains the positive correlation between students’ health consciousness and achievement in the long run. It proposes the goal of a healthy and thriving school as a bold resolution to the undesirable status quo where both students and schools struggle to survive in Hong Kong. What it entails is a fundamental vision change of school management, which would win over the short-lived effect of piecemeal, knee-jerk health campaigns or interventions. Apart from pointing out the external assistance rendered by CHEHP, the book outlines ten health content areas (Personal Health, Food and Nutrition, Mental and Emotional Health, Family Life and Sex Education, Prevention and Management of Disease, Smoking, Alcoholism, Drug Use, and Abuse, Consumer Health, Safety and First Aid, Environmental Health and Conservation, Life, Ageing and Death) and competencies (Health Literacy, Health Knowledge, Wellness Behaviors, Healthful Situations, Healthful Relationships, Responsible Decision-Making, Resistance Skills, Protective Factors, and Resiliency) for actual implementation.

As a whole, the book does not aim to prescribe but rather stimulate educators in customizing the best approach for their schools. By analyzing past successes, it sincerely recommends the “think big, start small and scale up” timeline (43) and “a well-planned, soft, and incremental approach” (25). Prof. Didier Jourdan is right to observe in the foreword that the book ultimately asks of educators “the commitment to improve the quality of education and health and to close the gap for all students” (xxxiii). This ethical point of view is seen in the emphasis on the role of the principal and the kinds of leadership required for the bold project. Dr. Cheung and his team believe that it takes a devoted, hardy and flexible leader to persuade his teammates about the long-term benefits of the healthy school framework and ensure its implementation over a reasonable schedule in a non-pushy manner that does not violate the spirit of the vision, which addresses the health of all stakeholders.

For all the talk of health as an impeccable ideal, Dr. Cheung remains conscious of the toilsome implications of such a paradigm shift – schools may have to pursue the holistic educational vision without being able to put aside the agenda of maintaining academic excellence. It is the objective of his book to gain the courageous and prompt participation of more school leaders, to build a greater network of solidarity that can send a strong and clear message of well-being as the priority of our future generations to the policymakers, who are yet wise enough to spearhead the change radically.[1] As of today, the prolonged online school arrangement under the COVID-19 pandemic and anti-extradition bill movement over the last two years has taken serious tolls on the health of students and teachers, the extent of which has yet to be estimated. It makes Dr. Cheung and his team’s call to prioritize the health agenda of the school community all the more urgent and appropriate.

Flora Mak researched on the idea of impersonality in Romantic poetry for her PhD degree in English (Literary Studies) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is a co-author of The Value of the Humanities in Higher Education: Perspectives of Hong Kong (2020). She is currently a part time lecturer and serves as a committee member of the Hong Kong YWCA Movement.

[1] The Education Bureau’s Healthy School Policy, launched in 2008, which advises schools “to help students reach a state of physical, mental and social well-being with a focus on developing students’ healthy lifestyles, positive attitudes and values, practical life skills and refusal skills to resist temptation” by setting an internal task group on a voluntary basis, has a more concrete focus on anti-drug agenda. On the other hand, the CHEHP is still running the relevant health-promoting school programmes with the government’s Quality Education Fund. That means, the healthy school concept remains an initiative that welcomes the voluntary participation of schools instead of a compulsory educational objective with corresponding funding.   

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