Here's an update on Daughter Tall's primary school application process. Now that the ticking clock counting down the seconds until she'll be a P1 student has become a virtual tympani in our brains -- after all, there's only a year and two months to go -- it's just about all we've been thinking about anyway.
This is part of a series on how to choose and apply to a Primary School in Hong Kong. You can see the full list of articles on the left.
If you've reached this page via a search engine, you'll probably want to read the introduction first.
In all seriousness, the first phase in the application process for the 2008 school year really has begun, and we've already submitted a couple of applications to 'DSS', i.e. Direct Subsidy Scheme, schools near our home. They're both relatively new schools that are given the normal amount of government funding, but then are allowed to charge a limited amount of monthly tuition; they're therefore much cheaper than international schools or truly private schools, but not free. DSS schools also have significant autonomy in how they set their curricula, organize their staff -- and handle their admissions. So these two schools have decided the way to get the best batch of new students is to try to cherry-pick them by setting their admissions applications deadlines as early as possible.
This isn't a bad development for Mrs Tall and me, as it's forced us to get Daughter Tall's application packet in order. For the uninitiated among you readers, this isn't a joke. Parents of applicants to 'selective' primary schools in Hong Kong must prepare what seems to me a preposterously elaborate set of documents to attach to each school's application form. I don't know if Hong Kong schools would automatically throw out any application forms that arrived sans this 'student profile', but everyone certainly assumes they would.
The first element in the package is a cover letter, much like the cover letter you'd put on a job application/CV.
Now let me give you an example of what's suggested you write in your cover letter. The following excerpt is taken from a locally-published book that's all about how to apply to Hong Kong primary schools:
It gives me great honour to write to you. We met last month to your school Opening Day, and at the time, my daughter, XXX and I were impressed by the virtues your pupils presented and the academic excellence they maintained. I also agree with your adoption of the cross-curriculum methodology to broaden pupils' horizon and the mission to empower pupils with teachers of very high calibre. Such nourishing environment has confirmed our decision to apply to your school.
XXX shares the same view with full enthusiasm. She actively joins an array of enlightening courses that can equip her with essential knowledge, thus building up her confidence. I believe this initiative is the main reason that your pupils are always outstanding. More encouragingly, my husband and I discover that XXX has potent language ability, especially in reading English literatures. This trait is exceptionally suited to your school's emphasis on language training. Therefore, given the opportunity to unleash her potentials, XXX can garner glories for your school in years to come.
XXX transcends the ordinary childhood with her exceptional skill in musical pursuit. She plays piano always, with her toes when her fingers are too bloody from constant practice. She sings bass in the Hong Kong youth choir, and soloed in several singing competition (see certificates). She is accomplished in art, and recreates scenes from The Journey to the West in toothpicks and M&M candy. She is a plumber, and keeps our sewerage pipes shiny and clear. She can levitate for several minutes. She cannot yet walk on water, but I am sure she would acquire this crucial skill quickly from you and your school's highly esteemed staff and students.
All right, all right, I added that last paragraph myself -- it's quoted from my own cover letter in support of Daughter Tall's application -- no, no, I made it up in a fit of pique. Seriously, though, the first two paragraphs really are quoted verbatim from the book. And, interestingly, they're also quoted almost as exactly in a completely different book on school admission Mrs Tall bought to supplement the first! No point reinventing the wheel, is there? As for Daughter Tall's real cover letter, let's just say I chose to come up with my own template and wording.
In addition to the letter, we had to prepare a sort of curriculum vitae. This presented Daughter Tall's personal details, and perhaps more critically, Mrs Tall's and my own. Then it had a section listing out all the classes and courses Daughter Tall has taken, and then another one that described her developmental/academic milestones.
The next section featured scanned images of several of Daughter Tall's certificates. As Saikungmama has warned us, you denigrate the importance of certificates at your peril. Mrs Tall and I had a brief worrying session before we started on the school applications because Daughter Tall had so few certificates; most of the classes and lessons she's taking hadn't led to any, e.g. piano, swimming and drawing. But then Mrs Tall realized we could just ask for them, and sure enough, all of her teachers ponied up extremely official-looking certs that seem fine to us.
The final section was a page of more scans, this time of family photos and examples of Daughter Tall's writing.
It's a surprisingly big relief to have a working version of this application profile in hand. Now we can just tweak it to fit the requirements of each application we make, just as you would for job apps.
The main source of remaining trouble is filling in the schools' applications forms, which Mrs Tall is going to have to handle, since they're mainly in Chinese. The form for the first school we applied to was simple, but the second certainly wasn't. Mrs Tall, who is a normally a very composed sort of person, was ranting about questions in this applications such as 'Tell us what it is about our teaching staff that you find so attractive'. Aaaaaaaaahhhh.
The big lesson I learned -- or re-learned, I guess, since it's obvious enough even I'd picked up on it -- is that these applications are just as much -- or more -- about Mrs Tall and me as they are about Daughter Tall. In many ways, the forms and 'suggested' elements of these portfolios are aimed at revealing how committed Mom and Dad are to educating Junior on their own. In the photo spread, for example, it's suggested that you include photos of you and the Mrs taking your kid to museums, engaging in healthy outdoor activities, and taking trips that 'broaden horizons'.
Applications also force parents to include their job titles and employers -- for purely demographic, research-based purposes, no doubt. And the whole process of preparing such an elaborate set of supporting documents reveals quite a lot about parents' educations levels, competence in using English, and again commitment to actually going to the amount of trouble it entails.
Daughter Tall's first group interview is coming up soon, so that's the next phase, and I'm sure I'll have more to report then. In the meantime, we'd love to hear more application stories from readers!