Early Childhood Education and Leadership in Hong Kong


It was rain like they’d never witnessed before. A violent torrent slapped down on the streets of Hong Kong soon after their 15-hour flight from Toronto. School was cancelled that day and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange took an unexpected vacation.

This is where eight Early Childhood Education (ECE) and two Early Childhood Leadership (ECL) students from Sheridan found themselves last May, in a bid to complete their placements and practicums overseas.

They huddled in cramped apartments, where elevators are often out of order and toilet bowls sit bereft of water.

Maintenance issues: so those affected were told to improvise with their shower nozzles over the toilet.

And the internet was finicky.  It was depraved, but they’d simply have to deal.

What else could they do?

“It was a closet,” said Kaycelyn Rosales, 25, of her bedroom and laughed, noting that the kitchen wasn’t much better.

She and her roommates suffered few maintenance issues, unlike some of the other students.

This is Hong Kong, a city one ocean away from home in more than one sense.

And it is a place that taught them things far beyond their practicums and placements, of a culture and lifestyle that tore down the walls of their Canadian comfort zones.

It was a rough start, but the rain stopped, the show went on and a precedent was set – Hong Kong was a place where the unexpected would reveal itself as the norm.

But despite it all, enthusiasm trumped misery by a landslide.

It all began in 2008 when Sheridan professor Yalin Gorica was contacted by Learning Habitat Kindergarten (LHK), a school in Kowloon, with a proposition: Send ECE students to complete their final placements overseas.

In that first year, three Sheridan students took the challenge, and one of them returned for work.

After the first go, it was clear that Sheridan’s partnership with LHK was an opportunity for students to experience a different culture, complete their placements and set themselves up for a career.

The idea took off rather quickly, said Gorica.

Five years later and the month of the storm reared its head toward 10 lucky students from the graduating class of 2013.

Rosales was on the homestretch to her ECE diploma.

She spent her evenings sharing a bunk bed with another girl, and the rest of the apartment with fellow ECE student Inderpreet Sidhu, 22.

During the evenings and weekends, they would explore the city or take in the sights.

“The city never sleeps,” said Sidhu.  There was food, booze and people to meet at all hours, friendly and patient people who were sensitive to their culture shock.

Sidhu even made a few friends.

But five days a week, the Sheridan ECE students took on their placements in different classes at Learning Habitat Kindergarten.

They would plan each class a week in advance and sometimes encourage more free thought than the students were used to.

In China, the education system is very teacher directed, meaning the children aren’t used to thinking for themselves, Rosales said.

She recalled the time a child turned to her and asked politely if he could use red in his painting.

But she decided to break the curriculum a bit.

Rosales, also a yoga instructor, took time out of the children’s normal schedule to teach them a few stretches and the kids loved it, she said.

The classes carried on for the duration of their placements, up to two and a half months, depending on which program the students were part of.

It all begins again in May 2014 and any ECE or ECL student can apply.

An information session on the program will come to the Trafalgar student residence conference centre Oct. 10 from 7 to 9 p.m.