Schools update

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As the temperatures drop, and premature Christmas decorations go up in every land, it's a good time for the batgung to bring you up to date on a topic we both love and hate: choosing a school in Hong Kong.

The Autumn 2005 scenario: Daughter T has begun her formal Hong Kong education. She's in her second month as a K1 student at a local kindergarten. Mr and Mrs B are currently shopping around for kindergartens, as their little lovely will be starting K1 next year.

As I recounted last year, Mrs Tall and I took the then-Toddler Tall around to quite a few schools for interviews. In the end, she was accepted into all the ones we applied to, and we would have been happy with at least three of them, so the process wasn't as stressful as we thought it might be.

We ended up paying the initial registration fee for our top two choices, so we could postpone making our final commitment to one or the other until this past summer. The two we chose were quite different: one is a very well-known 'international' kindergarten in Kowloon Tong that's quite competitive in its admissions. It's also relatively costly, at over 3K/month. The other is a 'second-tier' school that's better known for being a pleasant, but possibly less 'academic' (if you can use that word in association with children who can barely locate their eyebrows) option. It's also about a thousand a month cheaper.

Initially we were inclined toward the latter choice, especially as the Kowloon Tong school is much farther from our home. But when we got the bus schedules for both schools, we realized the actual time spent on school buses would be just a few minutes different. This started eroding our objections to the 'good' school, and sure enough, when the time came to make our final choice, we couldn't refuse the more conventional option.

To keep our little angel occupied last year, we also registered her in a sort of pre-kindergarten class in a school just down the street from us. She started there last December, and attended half-days right up to August this year.

This place was brand new, and had obtained relatively large premises, so it had lots of shiny new toys, the classrooms were big and comfortable, and there was space left over for many giant statues of popular cartoon characters. I tell you, you cannot say you have lived until you have looked in the eye of a seven-foot Ding-Dong.

Daughter T seemed to love her teacher, but the school's lack of administrative competence eventually burned through the happy cartoon façade. We never quite knew who was teaching what, which uniform our daughter should wear when, what she needed to take to school, and so on. They even forgot to take our monthly checks (which we were instructed to pass on to them in our daughter's school bag) for days on end.

Never the less, we certainly don't think it was a waste of time for Daughter Tall, as she accomplished two key pre-kindergarten objectives:

  1. She learned to go potty in an institutional setting; and
  2. She worked through about 10 common childhood viruses in six months, so presumably she'll have to deal with fewer this year.

The first day of 'real' kindergarten this past September saw Daughter Tall in a whirlwind of excitement.

I should pause here to describe her emerging character a bit, as it may help to put into perspective some of what follows. She seems to be developing a temperament not unlike a miniature Hermione from the 'Harry Potter' series. She's bright and quick (her totally unbiased father assures you!), and she loves learning, whether in school, with Mrs Tall and me at home, or watching Mandarin videos on her own.

But she's also quite a little know-it-all, and she can sometimes be pushy with other kids, especially when she thinks they're being too slow on the uptake. For example, she went through an unpleasant little phase last spring in which she was literally pushy, i.e. she was shoving her classmates into place when they were too slow to line up on their own. When we asked her about this (after her teacher had sent a little letter home to us), she said 'I'm just helping the other siu peng yao [i.e. 'little friends'] by carrying them to where they need to be!' So she is not shy and retiring.

Anyway, this autumn Daughter Tall is virtually dancing her way to the bus stop each morning. She worships her new teacher, and is unremittingly enthusiastic about everything to do with K1 so far. Mrs Tall and I are of course happy, not least because we don't need to kick ourselves for picking a school our darling hates. The new school also is flawless in its organization and administration. We have received detailed instructions for every possible thing we need to buy or prepare for our daughter, along with clear, timely summaries of what she's studying each week, and how we can help to support that.

On the other hand, she also (gulp!) got her first homework assignments recently. They involved connecting dots and very limited coloring, so we are not exactly at the crushing burden stage yet.

Recently, though, we did see the first sign of possible things to come, when late on a Saturday evening Daughter Tall suddenly decided she HAD to do her weekend homework right that minute. She just had to. Well, it only took a few minutes, so no real problem there, but still . . . .

Further weirdness ensued a few nights later, when we found Daughter Tall weeping disconsolately. Why? Because that night Teacher had given her no homework, and she was desperate to do some. Hmmm. Let's hope this attitude survives the next 15 years.

So, at the moment, we're still definitely on the 'local schools' track, meaning we're planning for Daughter Tall eventually to attend primary and secondary schools with local Hong Kong Chinese kids who speak Cantonese as their native language. Since these are the same kids she's going to kindergarten with, so far so good.

In fact, we've noted a subtle shift in her linguistic preferences recently. Although it's hard to say if she's 'better' in English or in Cantonese, her 'default setting' has definitely changed. What I mean is, in the past when she was really tired or angry or otherwise stressed, she would always want to speak English. In recent months, it's shifted to Cantonese. That makes me feel a little left out at times, but on the whole I think it's a good thing if we're going to keep her on the local schools track.

More updates soon . . . .