More schools questions: Putonghua teaching for the English-speaking child

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Thanks to all of you for your previous replies.

My daughter, born in 2000, will be entering Year 3 in HK in Fall 2007. I have been in HK this last year, but she and my wife will not join us until the summer 2007.

Our goal is for her to find a school where she will learn good spoken Putonghua and written Chinese. I speak and write Chinese fluently (Putonghua, not Cantonese) and know how much labor is involved.

She has been accepted by Hong Lok Yuen, and we also have applications in to Yew Chung International School in Kowloon, Chinese International School on HK Island and Renaissance College in Ma On Shan. I work in Kowloon and Shatin; we would be willing to choose a place to live based on school proximity.

I've already heard from several of you about Renaissance College, but wonder if anyone has opinions on Hong Lok Yuen, Yew Chung or Chinese International School (CIS), especially with regards to the level of Chinese instruction.

I can also be reached directly at ncongdon@cuhk.edu.hk

Thanks for your thoughts!
Nathan Congdon

You might want to think about Shatin Junior

Hello Nathan,

Chinese International School has quite a good reputation for getting kids to speak and read and write reasonable Mandarin. The drawbacks are - a) it's quite a long commute from Shatin; b)it's quite expensive - so even if CUHK is giving you an education allowance, it will take a bite out of your paycheck.

I've met kids who graduated from Shatin College (your local ESF school) and quite a few of them are fluent in Mandarin. I would really recommend that you look closely at Shatin Junior School (the primary section) and also speak w/ your colleagues at CUHK. They should be able to give you lots of info., especially about. When I lived in Tai Wai, I was quite impressed w/ the kids who went to Shatin Junior.

Yew Chung - private, Cantonese medium, $$$$$. The kids I've met from there are happy and fluent in Cantonese & English. Seems like a less intense atmosphere than Chinese International School.

I don't know anything about Hong Lok Yuen International School. It's not one of the "big name" schools. I don't think it has a secondary school attached. This could be an issue for you in 4 years, when your daughter is old enough for secondary school.

Edited:

I spoke w/ my friend who sends his kids to Yew Cheng. I was wrong above on a couple of points. It's Cantonese Medium for nursery and kindergarten; then it begins to switch to Putonghua for the Chinese lessons and is English medium for the rest. He says that the Putonghua is very good in the primary school & that a friend of his whose kids switched to CIS were in the top of their Chinese classes there. He said that he thinks the quality declines at Yew Cheng for the secondary school, and many people switch out of it after 6th or 7th grade.

HK Schools

Thanks very much for the very specific and helpful comments on Yew Chung and Mandarin.

Best regards,
Nathan Congdon

Suzhe

If you really don't mind moving to accommodate your daughter's schooling, I would recommend Suzhe (Kiangsu Chekiang School: www.kcs.edu.hk) in North Point. It is a through-train school, as they have a new (only a few years old) secondary school also. They only use Mandarin to teach, with 30 minutes of English each day, in the kindergarten years. (There is an international school on the same grounds which is English-medium.)

My 4-year-old son has been there for two years, and he seems quite happy, not to mention his Mandarin sounds fine to me. My husband and I both speak Mandarin, and can read and write, but there are many parents there who don't speak the language at all, or can speak but can't read or write, and their children still seem to thrive.

The only thing to seriously consider about this school is its teaching style. It is a very traditional school. Starting in K2, 4-5-year-olds have homework every night. For my son, depending on his mood, it can take 5 minutes or 30 minutes, and consist of writing one letter, or one character 6 times. On the other hand, the teachers seem motivated. There is a lot of music in the classroom, as there is a piano for the teacher to accompany the children, and they do a lot of singing and movement. My daughter will be starting at their nursery in the fall.

Suzhe

Is there any chance you could contact me via email abou Suzhe? This sounds like the best place in HK for my kids, and I am very keen to learn more about what they have to offer, particularly from a aparent who has kids there. My email is: ncongdon@cuhk.edu

Thanks!

Nathan Congdon

Suzhe followup

A few points about Suzhe (KCS-Kiangsu-Chekiang Kindergarten / Primary School 蘇浙小學), in case anyone is revisiting this thread.

KCS is a private, Mandarin-language local school; the kindergarten and primary school teach in Mandarin with daily English class. KCIS is their international "section," which teaches in English with a daily Mandarin class; especially at the primary school level, it is in practice more like a separate school. Clicking on the links will give you an immediate sense of each place; KCS primary school information is solely in Chinese; KCIS in English; and the KCS nursery/kindergarten flyer is bilingual. Both the Mandarin-medium and the international section have secondary schools. However, as one poster mentioned somewhere on this site, the Mandarin-medium secondary school is not considered as good as the primary school, and many KCS primary school graduates go elsewhere.

The kindergartens (international and local) are in the same building with the local KCS primary school in North Point; however, most of the international section primary school is on Braemar Hill (from P2 on). This pretty much encapsulates my entire knowledge of KCIS; everything below will pertain to the KCS (local Mandarin) sections.

In the KCS kindergarten, which is quite large (many, many half-day classes; only one full-day class for K2 and K3), there are indeed "many parents who don't speak the language at all, or can speak but can't read or write, and their children still seem to thrive," as one earlier post noted. However, many of these switch their kids out after K2 (to go into P1 at international/ESF/PIS schools) or after K3. The primary school situation is a bit different; I will touch on that below.

Based on what I've been told by parents who have been involved with KCS for some time, the school has been becoming more popular with both local HK families and international families as the perception that "Mandarin is important" has risen. Also, the availability of government subsidies for pre-primary education makes it more affordable. The kindergarten (let alone the nursery) is becomingly increasingly hard to get into. If you are interested in having your child attend the KCS kindergarten, apply early and it may still be necessary to be on a waiting list for some time. K2 (the second year of kindergarten) is reputed to be the hardest year to get into but spots open up in K3, as families move into either the international/ESF/PIS stream OR finally attain places at the kindergarten of the local school of their dreams. (This is probably true at a lot of HK kindergartens).

I have no idea how intense the competition is for P1 places compared to other reasonably well-known schools, but everyone agrees it has gotten a lot harder than it used to be. A couple of years ago the KCS primary school (i.e. the Mandarin-medium school) introduced interviews for graduates of its kindergarten. Previously, I believe, attendance at the kindergarten guaranteed admission to the school, but as the kindergarten has grown, so has the demand for primary school places.

By local, non-English-medium primary school standards, KCS is relatively international and does have a large number of mixed children and / or non-Chinese children. In our child's class of about 26 students, I can think of 7 children whom I know are half-Chinese or (1) non-Chinese; so maybe a quarter of the class? Also, there will be quite a few non-local Chinese families (i.e. both parents from Taiwan/the mainland/Singapore). Mixed children may of course be Chinese-Japanese or Chinese-Korean (etc.), so they may not be visibly "mixed." Ethnically Chinese parents may or may not speak (or more importantly read/write) Chinese well. And of course you may have Chinese children adopted by non-Chinese families. So the range of language competency in both Mandarin and English is fairly wide. There are some, but not many, obviously non-Chinese children, especially compared to the kindergarten. The word is that kids from these backgrounds (mixed or non-Chinese) tend to move to the international section or switch schools altogether in the first few years of primary school, especially in and after P3 when the homework load supposedly increases significantly; so the profile is probably a bit different by P4, which is certainly my impression from attending school events. That said, two of the 5 top students in our child's P1 class were mixed (one mainland Chinese, one Euro-American parent), and most of the P1 students carried on into P2.

The earlier commentor also noted the kindergarten's "very traditional" teaching style. This is even more true of the primary school; the school motto, after all, is "orderly and respectful" 整齊嚴肅. While the kindergarten groups tables together, the primary school has the students sitting in assigned seats in rows facing the blackboard. The kindergarten has a Christmas show with singing and dancing by each class; the primary school has an awards ceremony for the families of the top five students in each class as determined by exams and homework. If you act up, you may be asked to stand outside the classroom. P1 homework is significantly more than KCS K3 homework (although not necessarily much more than that given in some local kindergartens). The approach is exam-driven rather than "project"-driven.

At least for the lower grades, among reputable local primary schools (I can't judge this; I'm basing this on what other parents tell me), KCS is rumored to be reasonable in terms of amounts of homework and exam obsession. As far as I know, there is no provision for children to stay after school to do homework under the teacher's supervision, as some schools offer. However, the two periods after lunch which are set aside for non-class activities (origami, Go, dancing, musicical instrument introduction; in the upper grades, sports and so on) may be used ato finish up seatwork/begin homework. How long the homework takes depends a lot on your child's competence in reading/writing Chinese and ability/willingness to sit still and concentrate. Because these develop at different rates depending on the child and his/her background, it may be relatively OK or quite difficult; homework may be done at 6 pm or 8 pm or close to midnight. If it turns out not to be easy but you stick it out (a process perhaps of years, not months), your child will have good Mandarin and read and write Chinese well. Not everyone can / is willing to push their children that hard for that long, for all the reasons earlier posters who moved out of local schools mention.

For our family, homework/exams have been manageable, but it involves a tight schedule and lots of parent-imposed discipline. We also have a bookworm who prefers Chinese to English; with another child, it would have been a lot harder. Other parents from mixed ethnic/language backgrounds report differently. There is no question that it is a bit of a shock to most of us coming out of Euro-American, etc. backgrounds. On the bright side, they do staple the exam and quiz schedule into the homework handbook early on, so you can plan ahead :-)