Helping Children Find Their Own Voice

【Interview with Joanna Hotung, Founder of the KG Group】

Over the past two decades, the KG Group has grown from a small art studio into the largest creative arts provider in Hong Kong. Comprised of four different brands - Kids’ Gallery, Face Productions, Star English, and Mills International Preschool - the KG Group was founded by Joanna Hotung in 1996. Since then, more than 60,000 students have participated in KG Group programs – a testament to the group’s leading role in promoting arts education in Hong Kong.
 

It all started with an elephant. Back in 1996, Joanna’s then four-year-old daughter insisted on painting an elephant orange and received an “F” for art on her kindergarten report card. According to her teacher, this was because elephants could not be orange – they could only be gray. When teachers also tried to force Joanna’s left-handed younger daughter into becoming right-handed (they explained that they were trying to help her), Joanna started to realize just how rigid the local educational environment could be. There seemed to be almost no room for young children to develop freely and creatively. Recognizing the need for more creative education in Hong Kong, Joanna was inspired to establish her first venture, Kids’ Gallery.

Kids’ Gallery began with a focus on arts & crafts/visual arts. From the beginning, there was great interest in the art programs on offer as there weren’t many other creative arts options available to children at that time. About a year after it was established, Kids’ Gallery also began to offer speech & drama/communication arts courses to meet growing demand for other kinds of arts. Today, Kids’ Gallery focuses on a wide variety of creative arts courses ranging from visual arts to musical theater, communication skills, debating, and more. As Joanna explains, “creative arts are fundamental to the physical, cognitive, and emotional development of young children. Messy play, music & movement, drama & communication, and arts & crafts are all integral to enhanced learning during the critical years of child development. In addition to this, they also generate huge amounts of fun and joy – experiences which our children should have plenty of!”
 

Joanna believes that the most important thing Kids’ Gallery offers is a fun and nurturing environment in which children can develop their confidence, their ability to express themselves, and their ability to form an opinion on things. She emphasizes that children should be encouraged to make choices even at a very young age. For example, teachers could ask children whether they wanted to use yellow paint or red paint in their paintings. “I just think it’s so important that you start young and give choices like that because ultimately the child is going to have to make decisions for themselves as they grow up. When they get older and become teenagers, they really should have an opinion on things. When they start going off to university, they absolutely need to be able to think for themselves from both an academic point of view and a practical point of view” says Joanna.

Building on the success of Kids’ Gallery, the three other KG Group brands were also developed in response to consumer demand and market needs. The core principles remain the same across the four brands – all focus on developing children to their full potential through enhanced creativity, critical thinking, and confidence in their own abilities.
 

Face Productions provides older students and young adults with performance training in acting, dancing and singing. Students have the opportunity to perform in professional theaters, and to prepare for auditions to performing arts schools in Hong Kong and overseas.

Star English teaches English through creative and interactive methods, rather than through rote learning and memorization. The aim is to teach everyday English skills (based on reading, writing, listening, and speaking idiomatic language) for genuine communication purposes, rather than just to pass exams.

Mills International Preschool offers a pre-nursery and kindergarten progam that synthesizes the KG Group philosophy of creative education, enquiry-based learning, and the early development of confident individuals. The school teaches a bilingual (English/Mandarin) curriculum and follows the UK Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) with modifications for Hong Kong. The core focus is on catering to the needs of each individual child, and instilling the love for learning that is critical at this early stage of each child’s educational journey.

In addition to offering a wide variety of educational programs through Kids’ Gallery, Face Productions, Star English, and Mills International Preschool, the KG Group is also constantly developing new ideas. Innovative partnerships with companies and organizations such as Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Christie’s, Van Cleef & Arpels, Mont Blanc and UNICEF have given KG Group students many unique opportunities outside of their regular classes.
 

At the very core of all of the KG Group’s activities are the 4 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Collaboration and Communication. Whilst these are the KG Group’s areas of expertise, Joanna points out that they are also the fundamental life skills that children need as they grow up. As children develop these skills, they will grow as individuals who know how to think for themselves.

“The most important thing to me is helping each child find their own voice – literally and metaphorically. It’s all to do with the individual child finding their own voice in whatever way that is. I’m not saying everyone has to be an extrovert. It doesn’t have to be a loud voice. It can be a quiet voice, but a quiet voice that knows what it wants to say, and knows what it believes in” says Joanna.
 

As a parent and educator for over 20 years, Joanna has witnessed how the education system in Hong Kong has changed in less than a generation. She notes that there is a lot more anxiety among parents these days, and more competition for school places at the perceived “top” schools. However, she is optimistic about the future, and says “I welcome the new schools that have recently been opening in Hong Kong, as well as the slow but steady moves towards more creative environments that many schools are embracing. Hopefully now that parents have more choice they can relax a little.” She goes on to say “I’m a great believer in finding the right learning environment for each individual child – whether they are academic, artistic, vocational – so that learning becomes fun, rather than a chore. Future success does not depend on qualifications alone; attitude, resilience, and individuality are all as important – if not more so.”

Though the KG Group has grown significantly since its early days, its emphasis has always been on quality before growth. As Joanna puts it, “it’s about getting the right people on board, finding the right locations, implementing the right curriculum, and changing with the times.” 

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With the KG Group’s stellar reputation, an estimated 70% of their new students are referred by existing parents. Word of mouth is a powerful tool in sharing information among parents. If your child has had experience with Kids’ Gallery, Face Productions, Star English or Mills International Preschool, please do share your views with other parents by writing a review on Whizpa.com. Just click on the links below!