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Collaborative Project on Teaching Cantonese Opera in Primary and Secondary Schools (2009-12)

Project Team

Project Convener:
Dr Leung Bo Wah, Associate Professor, Department of Cultural and Creative Arts
Deputy Convener:
Dr Estella Cham, Former Principal Curriculum Officer
(Arts Education), Education Bureau
Dr Annie Mok, Lecturer, Department of Cultural and Creative Arts
Mr Raymond Yuen, Senior Teaching Fellow, Department of Cultural and Creative Arts
Project Manager:
Miss Maggie Cheng, Executive Assistant, Department of Cultural and Creative Arts


Since the late 1990s, the Education Department (known as Education Bureau at present) started to incorporate the Cantonese opera in school curriculum in Hong Kong in order to promote Chinese culture through arts education. The genre has been included in the Music Curriculum Guide for Primary 1 to Secondary 3 (Curriculum Development Council, 2003). Since the 2000s, most of the music textbooks in Hong Kong adopted the curriculum and provided teaching and learning materials for Cantonese opera. However, most of the music teachers were hesitate to teach the genre due to their lack of confidence and knowledge about the Cantonese opera.
The Cantonese Opera (Yueju) has been included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2009. Nevertheless, music teachers continued to ignore the genre in a certain extent although the Education Bureau had founded a Curriculum Committee and developed a teaching kit named 粵劇合士上 for the use of teachers in Hong Kong. It seems that music teachers need further assistance in developing their teaching competence and confidence.
In 2007-08, the Project Convener, Dr Leung Bo Wah received a grant of $200,000 from the Cantonese Opera Development Fund under the Home Affairs Bureau to implement a pilot project of the collaborative teaching and learning of Cantonese opera in two primary and two secondary schools. One of the major outcomes was a CDROM in which good practice of collaborative teaching between teachers and artists as well as the teaching plans were included. The CDROM was freely distributed to all music teachers in Hong Kong for professional sharing.
The Project Convener aimed to further expand the impact of the pilot study and thus applied for a grant from the Quality Education Fund in 2009. A grant of $2.66 million was successfully granted to the project for a project in a bigger scale. It aimed to implement a collaborative partnership between a music teacher and a Cantonese opera artist in teaching in music lessons. A total of 60 schools were targeted in three years’ implementation. The project aims to elevate music teachers’ knowledge and skills on Cantonese opera in order to enhance their confidence and interest in teaching the genre. It was also hoped that the school students would be benefited by the learning experience so that they would become the future audience. Specifically, the Project aims to:

1.          Facilitate school music teachers and Cantonese opera artists in pursuing a partnership collaboration of teaching in music classes;
2.          Encourage teachers to employ the concept of “life-wide learning” by providing different kinds of learning experiences, such as visit the Cantonese opera Exhibition at the Heritage Museum, or bringing the students to visit live performances;
3.          Provide training for teachers to strengthen their knowledge about Cantonese opera, listening competence and singing skills;
4.          Provide basic training of pedagogy for Cantonese opera artists so that they can develop a preliminary understanding about the schooling in order to facilitate the teaching and learning as well as designing curriculum;
5.          Implement research studies to investigate students’ motivation changes, teachers’ competence and motivational transformation, and inquire the mode of the partnership teaching; and
6.          Produce CDROMs to provide successful teaching practices for sharing with other teachers in Hong Kong, and to organize sharing sessions with other teachers to promote the partnership approach for teaching and learning Cantonese opera in schools.

Project Period
Nov 2009 to Oct 2012
Participating Schools
54 Secondary and Primary Schools
Participating Artists
Participating Music Teachers
Participating Students

Participating teachers attended a total of 18 hours of workshops in which singing skills, basic knowledge about Cantonese opera were taught. Afterwards each school was allocated with one artist for collaborative teaching. The artists were responsible in designing the teaching plan with the teachers collaboratively. A total of eight sections of collaborative teaching were then implemented. During the teaching period the team visited each and every school at least once in order to provide feedback to both the teacher and the artists on the quality of teaching and learning. After completion of each of the academic year, all the participating schools were invited to share their teaching and learning experiences by presenting in a 15-minute session in the Sharing Session.
Three Ways of Knowledge Transfer
1.          Pedagogy Content Knowledge is transferred to Teachers and Artists
According to the Music Curriculum Guide (Curriculum Development Council, 2003), a teaching unit with listening, performing and creating should be designed to focus on a specific music learning theme. In order to facilitate the learning experiences, relevant knowledge and skills are taught to specifically address the students’ needs for the activities. In such case the Project Leader and the Team provided the pedagogical content knowledge to both the music teachers and the artist in designing their teaching plans. Specific examples were provided for understanding the pedagogy.
2.          Knowledge and skills are transferred from Artists to School Teachers
Knowledge about Cantonese opera, such as notation used in the Cantonese opera, the categorization of music in Cantonese opera, the types of speech used in the Cantonese opera, and basic percussion accompaniment were taught to the music teachers. In addition, teachers were also taught to sing the excerpts in an authentic style. Indigenous pedagogy was introduced to the music teachers, including the approaches of using Gung-che notation to learn correct diction while singing.
3.          Classroom pedagogical skills are transferred from School Teachers to Artists
Artists admitted that they have learnt the classroom management during the class teaching, which would benefit their personal teaching in extra-curricular activities. It is observed that the artists are more knowledgeable and skillful in pacing the teaching and managing individual diversity in classes.
Research Activities
A number of research studies were implemented. The first one focused on students’ motivation changes. It was observed that many young people in Hong Kong are uninterested in the genre. Thus the project convener did a pre- and post-test study measuring the motivation changes of students using the Expectancy-value Motivation Theory. Findings reveal that primary students had demonstrated a significant increase of motivation in terms of expectancy, intrinsic value, attainment value, and cost (level of difficulty), the secondary participants expressed a significant increase in cost (Leung & Leung, 2010, 2012). Reasons leading to the findings include that while primary students are more open to any learning target, secondary students might be too self-conscious about their personal identity and self-image. However, this is a very positive and encouraging result indicating that the genre can be taught successfully if students start to learn at an early stage.
On the other hand, teachers’ transformation was another research focus due to the lack of interest and confidence of teachers in teaching the genre. A longitudinal study was held in 2008 and 2011 in order to see to what extent and why music teachers had transformed their perception on the teaching and learning of the genre. A multiple case study was adopted with interviews as the major instrument. Findings reveal that some teachers had changed their perceived image towards Chinese music and culture through the informative learning of Cantonese opera. In conclusion, sufficient time, external context as well as informative learning are the prerequisites of teachers’ transformation.
The third study was about misconception of teachers in Cantonese opera (Leung, 2011). It was observed that some music teachers did not fully understand the musical nature and characteristics of Cantonese opera. Under such circumstance, they might mislead their students to a problematic learning direction. The main attribute to the current situation is the Western music and music education background of teachers. Indigenous pedagogy of Cantonese opera thus is suggested to be another end of modern pedagogy issue that should also be valued.
Research Output
Leung, B. W., & Leung, E. C. K. (2010). Teacher-artist partnership in teaching Cantonese opera in Hong Kong schools: Student transformation. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 11(5). [on-line] website: http://www.ijea.org/v11n5/.
Leung, B. W. (2010, July). Teacher-artist partnership in teaching Cantonese opera in Hong Kong schools: Teacher transformation. Proceedings of the 23rd International Seminar on Research in Music Education, Changchun, China.
Leung, B. W. (2011, April). Misconception of teaching ethnic music: Employing a teacher-artists partnership approach in teaching. The 7th International Conference for Research in Music Education, Exeter, UK.
Leung, B. W., & Leung, E. C. K. (2012). Teacher-artist partnership in teaching Cantonese opera in Hong Kong schools: Student transformation. In M. Moore (Ed.), Critical essays in music education (pp. 281-306). Surrey, UK: Ashgate.
Leung, B. W. (accepted, 2014). Teachers’ transformation as learning: Teaching Cantonese opera in Hong Kong schools with a teacher-artist partnership. International Journal of Music Education.
Pictures of Collaborative Class Teaching
The Project received the Musical Rights Award in September 2011 presented by the International Music Council (IMC). The IMC was founded by UNESCO in 1949, which is currently the biggest international music organization in the world. The IMC Musical Rights Awards aim to award projects that promote:
1.      the right for all children and adults to express, learn and access to all music activities; and
2.      the right for musical artists to develop their artistry and obtain just recognition.
Dr Leung received the IMC Musical Rights Award in Tallin, Estonia.
Certificate of the IMC Musical Rights Award
In conclusion, this project has impacted on various aspects, including the following:
      Music teachers become more confident, capable and interested in teaching the Cantonese
      Students become motivated and interested in learning the genre;
      Artists are aware that teaching in schools is effective in promoting the genre;
      Artists have developed basic skills in curriculum planning and teaching in schools
      2 CDROMs are to be produced and sent to all schools in Hong Kong for their reference.
Cover of the first CDROM


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