Schooling in Hong Kong is a stressful part of the expat experience. It isn’t as simple as walking down to the local school and signing up. There are a number of factors to be considered in the decisions on where we choose to apply, and just as importantly whether the school in question chooses to accept a child.
Back when we first moved over we decided on an english speaking education system for our children. It wasn’t an easy decision. Learning Cantonese is one of the benefits we saw in moving here, but as our children knew virtually no Cantonese we felt we would be disadvantaging them immersing them into the local Cantonese speaking schools. At the time our daughter was rebelling against the chinese language and while it is an important skill, we didn’t want the crucial years of her early education to suffer because of her rebellion. We also wanted a school that would allow our children to move back into the Australian education system and one that promoted individuality and learning rather than repetition and memorising. We couldn’t afford most of the private schools here, so we were left with only a few options. We ended up choosing a semi-subsidised school system conducted in English.
Bethany has been in the system for 3 years now and has thrived at the primary school she attends. She has a global view of things, is a self thinker, and is starting to embrace both Mandarin and Cantonese thanks in part to the school. Now Mitchell is coming of age we want nothing less for him. As he has an older sibling already at the school he does get some priority … for an interview.
Some parents aren’t even that lucky. With the rising number of children both from births, demand for an english medium education and rising costs I have expat acquaintances who weren’t even lucky enough to get an interview! Several more I know interviewed for a waiting list. Some have been on waiting lists for almost a year for a Year 1 spot from last year (and the school year finishes at the end of June).
Where the stress started to rear its ugly head for us was after the interview. We didn’t “train” Mitchell for the interview. We didn’t send him to “interview training” classes. We didn’t do anything except tell Mitchell he was having a special playdate at Bethany’s school with some of her teachers. The school is testing for english language skills – speaking and comprehension. Nothing more. They don’t judge children on their ABC’s or 123’s. Mitchell is a native English speaker, so it shouldn’t be a problem right?
The thing is – at the school we applied for him to attend, they have 120 Year 1 places … and over 300 applications. Some parents are incredibly competitive for the spots and do a lot of training for the interview. In some cases parents PAY private tutors or companies for intensive interview training to ensure their child passes. Parents will lie on their forms to ensure they are higher up the list to obtain an interview spot. It doesn’t matter who you are or how well you speak english – these kinds of things add pressure to the stress of a place – and what to do if your child doesn’t get in.
I am a worrier, especially when it comes to my children and when confronted with how hard core and desperate some parents are, I can’t help but wonder if everything will be ok. Did he speak up with the teachers? Did he listen?
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. Mitchell has been accepted to the same primary school as his big sister. He is incredibly excited. He can’t wait to go to the same school as her and he can’t wait to be at a big school with lots of playgrounds and activities. He is even excited about getting homework! (Wonder how long that will last.)
I am relieved, but I also feel for those who didn’t get a place purely because there weren’t enough spots. I wonder if the problem of not enough places to meet the demands for this system will continue to get worse. I think about how easy it would have been back in Australia and how back there we take our children’s education somewhat for granted. Is there a way to fix the Hong Kong system?