Research project funded by Research Grants Council: Executive Function Skills and Early School Success in Young Chinese Children from Low-income Families


This project is supported under the Faculty Development Scheme (FDS) of the Research Grants Council (RGC).

Principal Investigator: Dr. CHAN Chi-Keung, the Assistant Professor of the Department of Counselling and Psychology

Amount awarded: HK$712,138

Duration of the project: October 2014 – September 2016

Details of the project:

“Hong Kong’s education system is polarized. Children from lower-income families need more help and support in their early developmental stages.” Dr. Chan shared his feelings from his heart.

Dr. Chan received his master and doctorate degrees in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota, USA. Then, he worked at an urban public school district in Minnesota and was in charge of research and administrative work. He observed that children from lower-income families tend to have poor physical and psychological development as well as learning outcomes as compared to peers with better family background. In recent years, lots of researches from Western countries have shown how socioeconomic status affects children’s development in executive function skills which in turn affects their cognitive development and learning outcomes. Although there are some existing researches about children’s executive function skills in the Chinese societies, none of them covered the socioeconomic impact on children’s executive function skills and early academic outcomes. Thus, Dr. Chan hopes this project would be a reflection and contribution to Educational Psychology, education and poverty alleviation work in Hong Kong.

Dr. Chan said he started discussion with the collaborative scholars from Hong Kong and USA, nine months before the application of the Faculty Development Scheme was even announced. They reached a consensus on designing and conducting a clear aim and meaningful research which could apply to both education and developmental psychology as well as to shed light on the problems of local education and society. “Our goal is to educate everyone irrespective of one’s background and to provide early support to the grassroot children in the developmental process so that they have healthy development and flourishing life. Dr. Chan thinks this research project could receive the FDS grant because it has a clear research aim, a systematic research method and the importance of this research to the academic field and local society. The reviewers of Research Grants Council gave high evaluations on these categories.

Speaking of the difficulties, Dr. Chan stated that the preparation of research instruments and training videos took a long time, as the testing instruments and procedures adopted from foreign countries might not be applicable to Chinese society. Also, the translation and back-translation required a lot of time to organise. Furthermore, this project involves cooperation with kindergartens. Given the school’s tight schedule as well as the fact that teachers, student and parents are all involved in this research project, it requires the coordination, trust and assistance from all parties. Although having to face and tackle these issues, Dr. Chan is quite satisfied about the expected progress of the project.

Dr. Chan said a research project that involves multiple layers cannot be completed by one-man effort. Taking in others’ suggestions can help succeeding in an outstanding research. He would like to express gratitude to his collaborators from Hong Kong and USA, including Dr. Bernard Wong from the Department of Counseling and Psychology at HKSYU, Dr. Xiao Zhang from the Department of Early Childhood Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Dr. J. J. Cutuli from the Department of Psychology at Rutgers University, and the Research Assistant of this project, Ms. Lala Ng. He is grateful to meet and know these young scholars who not only have common research interests as him but also with great hope and aspiration on education. He would also like to give special thanks to Professor Catherine Sun, the Head of Department of Counseling and Psychology at HKSYU, Professor Geoffrey Blowers and his team at the HKSYU Research Office, and some local scholars in Educational Psychology, for their valuable advice while writing the research funding proposal.

This research project might not help changing the polarized education in Hong Kong in the near future. However, Dr. Chan hopes when more people are willing to contribute and to pay attention to the cognitive and psychological growth of children from lower-income families, every children could grow on “the same starting line”.

Source: March Issue 2015

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