Local or International Schools ?

Mr Tall,

I'm glad that you're leading the way with the choice on which type of school to attend.

Currently I'm hoping that we'll find a way for Baby B to learn Chinese writing, which would suggest a local school. But I also wonder how much of a hard time she'd have there. Kids are notorious for picking on any differences, and having light brown hair is a very obvious difference. While reading your article last week I even caught myself thinking "I wish she looked a bit more Chinese" !!

The other potential downside of being taught in Chinese is that I won't have much of clue what teaching materials are being used, or how homework is going. Hmm, just thinking about that some more - which direction has the pendulum swung at the moment on using english-language text books ? Maybe a local school using english materials is the compromise ?

Fortunately for us, you are one year ahead on all these big decisions, so we'll be watching your progress with interest.

Mr B.

PS As with most of the cross-cultural issues in HK, the Lily Wong cartoon strip has some amusing comments on this subject.

More on our experiences

Hi Bijai & Mr. B,

My daughter's school is considered a quite good school, but not quite "top tier" like DGS or Marknoll. My husband says that compared to some local schools, the homework load is not heavy. It just seems that way to me, perhaps because I never did a bit of homework until I was 11 years old (my step-dad was bit concerned about it and had me memorize some poetry when I was about 10 to make up for the lack :))

My daughter is the only mixed kid in her year at her school (~120 girls) and at sports day I didn't see any other mixed kids in the other classes, although there might have been some. No Europeans or South Asians either. But, some of our neighbor's kids go there, so in that way you can say that she shares the same economic class and location background. ;)

Yeah, I don't ask her for being at the top of the class. But playing Sisyphus is a hard game for a 7-year old, at least ours.

Some kids from mixed families do quite well at these schools, some kids thrive. I think it's worth a chance to see, especially if your wife is really committed to being an on-the-spot homework facilitator. A lot of the kids I teach Sunday school go to these schools and they are very impressive, even at 6-8 years old: articulate, thoughtful.

My daughter's strengths (at this point) lie in her way with people (she iis friendly, outgoing, empathetic, speaks well) her athleticism, and her understanding of stories. Her logical abilities, while not terrible, are not so strong. In that I think she is probably like me, who usually managed to get B's in math if I worked VERY HARD (unlike some classmates who were very clever at math and could get A's without any studying). So, it may be that the ESF schools are better for her. But also, less work for my husband and me.

As for my son, he is probably more intellectually suitable for the local schools. But, his behavior is less disciplined than many local students (although by US standards he is mostly an obedient and well-behaved child). So, we hope that by switching him to the ESF system, he will be an "average" boy, instead of "one of the 4 naughtiest" or something like that.

As for the IB... only one person my own age I know got it. He is from Australia and spent his last 2 years of secondary at one of the United World Colleges (not the one in HK). He really enjoyed his studies there, went on to a very good university where in addition to getting a degree in engineering he was also very involed in theatrical management.

Here is some info. on the International Baccalaureate

But, at the moment, the ESF schools still follow the UK National Curriculum (or at least KGV does).

thanks . . .

I've been reading this thread with great interest, and just wanted to jump in and say thanks to Bijai and Lohpoh for contributing so much, so well!

Lohpoh, your point about not knowing what the local universities will be requiring in the future is spot-on. The impression I get of the education department is of an organization at drift.

Being a weak-government fan myself, however, I take this as a good thing in some ways. It encourages the local schools to experiment, meaning there are going to be even more choices available as the years go by. This means even more stress for us parents, maybe, but it also means the flaws of the current system might be ameliorated as parents start seeking alternatives.

One example is a school that's very near chez Tall, called the Logos Academy. It's a brand-new 'through-train' (i.e. both primary and secondary) DGS school that both advertises its 'less homework' approach, and has already committed to the IB for its secondary school students. It has already been heavily oversubscribed.

Maybe the start of a trend?

Mr T

ESF and local schools

Lohpoh/Mr Tall,

One last thing. If I look for example to DGS in the photo of the faculty they are almost all (except one) Chinese. I know that this does not mean they are not eminently qualified (I've heard Anson Chan speak) and this is perhaps a type of irrational thought, but how are you assessing the quality of the English in this 'name' schools? I know ex-colleagues that have gone on to become teachers and I wouldn't want kid#1 learning from them. I got in trouble with Madam while kid#1 was in preschool for saying the teacher was wrong and I was right WRT the correct way to say something. I know Lohpoh you are is moving away from this now, but I'm sure it must be something you've considered.

Will you consider sending them to Chinese classes after school whilst attending the ESF schools?

BTW Mr Tall, my motives are entirely selfish. I am agonising over the decision at the moment and we are the first in our group of friends to be going through it. We have a lot of local friends who haven't been able to get a first round offer so it is hard to get any sympathy there :( When I saw this thread I couldn't believe my luck.

Errors in the last message

Just to prove my own credentials to educate my kids the previous message includes about 5 grammatical errors. These are the result of editing the message and then sending through without reading the entire message - honest :oops: .

English standards

Bijai & Mr. Tall,

At my daughter's present school, I have been more concerned with the *style* of teaching, rather than the level. I think that the expectations for P1 and P2 are a bit to high. For example, on her dictations if she misses a comma or a full stop, she gets marks off. Can you think of a better method to discourage a child from wanting to write?

Hers is a Govt. school, so I don't know if the Big Name Schools (BNSs) follow the same practices. I assume they do. maybe you can ask the headmaster or headmsistress about the role of dictations and overly high expectations of punctuation in the lower grades? Of course, you may get branded a trouble maker....

On the other hand, her handwriting and sentence creation is better than mine when I was her age. So, maybe it is a good thing?

As for pronunciation, I remember when she was in K1 and she was saying "A...Pair...Of...Zissors" and I corrected her, telling her "you know how to say scissors properly" and she said "but that's the way Mss L. says it..." and I said that I wanted her to speak English like me, not Miss L.

She does have a bit of a British accent when she pronounces words (I am from No. America), but I just think it's cute. I have a British acquaintance from Leicestershire who says that enrolling her kids in the local ESF school has changed their accents "They sound like Americans now".

The young people that I have met who are in F6 or F7 of the "name schools" have had very good spoken English. Since I haven't seen their writing, I couldn't comment on that.

We are considering sending them to extra Chinese classes if they get into the ESF school. I also plan to take them North for a holiday in a year or so, so they can see that Putonghua is a living langauge and that might encourage them in that area.

But, we also have the issue that Putionghua is commonly taught using the simplified characters and I want them to learn the traditional characters. It's not easy.

Happy Solstice

Re:Local or International Schools ?

So far, I've been impressed with the ESF approach to teaching P1 children. The teachers do their best to encourage all of the children, even if their work is not perfect, and they certainly don't give them much pressure. I don't think they even give marks for work, so they couldn't deduct any for poor punctuation, but of course they point out the errors and try to help them to do better next time.

Overall the objective is to make learning fun and to help the children to think for themselves. In my opinion this is the right way when you are dealing with 4 & 5 year olds - I'd hate for them to be trying to learn by rote and being penalised for small mistakes.

Interesting report from someone who's been there . . .

I'm reprinting here, with permission, an email I received recently from a young man who's just been through the HK education system.

I'm sure you have had lots of feedback concerning the decision of which school you want to send your children too...

My parents are Chinese, and so am I, but they decided to send me to an international school (Kennedy school if you've heard of it). Being there I learned to get along with people of all races which you do not get in local schools period. I learnt English perfectly, my father stopped speaking Cantonese to me and started with English in the hope that I would improve even more. My mother carried on speaking mandarin to me. The hope of this was that by the time I was grown, I'd be able to speak read and write English, and speak mandarin and Cantonese.

This didn't quite work out as they planned and English became my first language. While I still could speak basic phrases in Cantonese but was more fluent in mandarin. I found it increasingly difficult to live in Hong Kong. Looking 100% Chinese but not being able to speak it meant that I led a more dormant life. Even though we had less work to do at school, there was not enough freedom to spend the time usefully, ending up watching tvb world (I think). My parents would still try to push me to my limits, forcing me to learn all sorts of things which all ended in failure simply because I was forced into it.

My friends were all foreigners with good English. So I never really integrated into a Chinese society.

This brings a lot of problems to the table - living in a society but not integrating yourself into it as much as people think you should. I remember I was shunned on the streets for speaking English so well and being laughed at when I told them I couldn't speak/read/write Cantonese.

If you are planning on living in Hong Kong for a long time, you need to consider whether you want your child to grow up as an outsider to the Cantonese community. I'm not sure if you know this already, but racism in Hong Kong is even worse than it is in multicultural western societies. So I mean, your child might have an even harder time than you anticipated just because of the way he/she looks. This could easily be avoided if he/she was in an international school.

The way you raise your child will also have an effect on how she/he does in local schools. Like you said in your article, there are parents who cram their children to get into the top schools, and if you want your child to go to a more prestigious school, would you not have to do the same? Living in the London now at 18, I've realized no matter how good your English is, at the end of the day people will still treat you differently because of the way you look. I learnt that lesson the hard way finding it difficult to settle into primary school when I first arrived (being the only Chinese kid in my school). Not only did looking Chinese affect me, the morals and rules I had to abide by in my Chinese household did too. So the way your child looks will have an impact on where she goes. A life of bullying will ruin your child! I mean, if you send her to local schools, she'll have to deal with a lot more situations regarding her culture that she will have to deal with. Am I Chinese? Or, if everybody treats me as a foreigner, am I one?

I think that the main point I am trying to make is, if you raise your kid in an international school, she/he will have less chance of integrating in Chinese society. Of course, if you are thinking of sending her abroad after secondary school for uni then everything is fine. She will be more prepared for the western world in that sense.

I cannot really see any advantages a mixed race child would have at a local school over an international school to be honest. I suppose everybody says that Chinese will be the most important language in the next century etc... If you can teach your child Chinese through extracurricular means, then everything would be sorted. Best of both worlds! But if you fail, then your child will only speak one language. English.

The level of your language depends on how often you need to use it. If you don't, you'll forget.

At the end of the day, if your kid looks foreign, send it to an international. If your child looks Chinese, then local it is.

Re:Local or International Schools ?

Mr Tall,

I think his opinions are perhaps an over simplification of the issues and there seems to be a fundametal difference between his parents attitude and our own - the people who have been contributing to date seem not to be trying to deny their own culture or language but to develop and integrate their children into both cultures. Even if I was to forbid my wife from speaking Cantonese to the kids, my wife enjoys Chinese TV and my kids watch at the same time. Their grandparents speak Chinese. The people they meet on the street speak Chinese. People on the street take them as Chinese and when we're out with foreigners or their in an English environment they feel perfrectly comfortable.

The opposing point that I guess I would make is if you only expose them to Chinese culture going to Chinese schools and living amongst Chinese they will grow up with the prejudices that are found in those groups. ESF has a mix of so many different people and cultures I don't think people will survive if they're not blind to the differences amongst different people. At the moment if you asked my son to sort the kids in his class there'd be three groups boys, girls and naughty boys.

Cantonese or Mandarin?

We are going for 2-4 years to HK. Our children are now toddlers and are just now learning English.

Should we try to get them to learn Mandarin (since way more people speak it worldwide) or Cantonese (since it's more the language of HK)?

Mandarin or Cantonese - Bilingual issues

Hi Mr. Boyd,

If you kids are toddlers and neither your wife nor you speak Cantonese or Mandarin, and you will leave HK in 4 years, that means your kids will be barely school age before you leave.

In that case, I would say your hopes of them learning much of either language is pretty dismal.

I speak English to my kids and my kids mostly speak English to their father. It was only when they were 2 that I began to send them to an all-Cantonese speaking nursery school. They learned to understand Cantonese fairly well, but couldn't say much (but, my kids didn't say all that much in either language until they were over 3).

Both my kids can speak Cantonese now. My older child (almost 8) is pretty much fluent. There are even some words that she knows in Cantonese but not in English (for example "da zhen" - getting an injection). But before first grade I would say that her speaking ability in Cantonese was about 1 or more years behind her monolingual Cantonese speaking classmates.

My son' (almost 6 years old) speaks better Cantonese than his sister at a similar age, but his accent is obviously foreign and he speaks almost like a 4 year-old in Cantonese. (but it's better than mine :) ).

I would recommend that you and your wife try to learn some "play ground " Cantonese and have your kids learn it too. Simple phrases like "please" "thank you" "excuse me" "give it back" "sorry" "so cute!", etc. That will allow them to use the language in a meaningful and every-day way, which (IMHO) is the best way to learn a language.

The reason I do not recommend Mandarin at this point is that you said your kids are toddlers and you don't plan to stay here long. If you were planning to be in HK or China on a longer term basis, then Mandarin would be a good choice. But here in HK it is harder to find Mandarin medium nursery schools and kindergartens.

Good Luck!

Happy New Year
恭喜發財! 身體健康!

Re:Local or International Schools ?

This article describes a pretty scary situation in HK schools (and life in general). Is the situation really that bad, or is the writer a little bit too facinated with this whole triad business?


Re:Local or International Schools ?

The writer (myself) is not fascinated by Triads.

Most (not all) public schools are really infamous and that bad especially when children reach Form 3 and above.

I know many readers here are teachers themselves, but I would suggest that spend some time and hang around the vicinity of such schools and get to know who these triads are and what they do around the school.

If it is any comfort, I was directly involved in recovering a girl back (I will not reveal her identity as she is already studying in UK now) from Triads where the matter went to the serious crime department, west kowloon (Sai Kowloon Chung On Chou), as she was being sold for HK$30,000 to a brothel in Portland street.

Records and proof available upon demand.


Re:Local or International Schools ?

How ironic that the rwiter himself provides the first reply :lol:
This blogging community is a small one indeed.

Anyway, I think it's great that you're joining the discussion.

After reading your article, I had several questions that come to mind:

- Are triads only active in public schools? or do they also cover the private schools?

- I own a software company here in Holland and am planning to move to HK at the end of this year in an attempt to penetrate the asian market. How likely am I to come into contact with these triads practices (paying protection money etc.) ?

- What's the triad situation on the mainland? Am I more likely to be confonted with them over there?

BTW, I always read your blog with much facination. Especially the article about doing business in China was truly amazing (BTW, if you still need embeded Linux experts, let me know). Please don't stop writing articles about your business experiences in HK and China as it's extremely valuable for me.


Re:Local or International Schools ?


It isn't as bad as one might think.

I will explain in details here when time permits. The short answers to your questions are as follows:

1) Mostly public schools adjacent to public housing estates (all over Hong Kong).

2) Some horrible areas like streets of Mong Kok, especially from Yau Ma Tei all the way to Sham Shui Po.

3) Protection fee trend is declining. Mainly because businesses are not performing well and they can hardly afford to break-even on their expensive rents, leave alone pay any protection fee, especially if their shops/stores are located on or around main roads.

4) Protection fee trend does not affect offices and businesses in commercial complexes. And mostly are a problem for small shop owners, bars, etc. on the street side.

5) China is a different triad story altogether.

Hopefully, you can wait one or two days for me to get back to you on specific issues regarding your questions. Finally, Hong Kong still is a much more safe city than many places in the world.

IB ed.

I don't know about how hong kong schools use the IB, but I felt that I should share my experience with the system. I'm a recent graduate of the system from UCC in canada.

It is for overachievers. Demanding, tough, and rigourous in its preparations, it has the ability to produce students who are well prepared for the first 2 years of college. When applying for college admissions. IB opens many doors and are looked upon favorably by elite institutions and programs.

However, the more laid back will be turned off by from certain fields of study due to the intensity of work. Parents should take heed of their children's personality before choosing it. If one is focused on a certain field, IB will certainly be beneficial. But for those looking to explore various fields, it would be wise to reconsider. IB binds you to a field for 2 years. Complications in course selection.

Re:Local or International Schools ?

We have decided that we will be sending our daughter to an ESF school but we haven’t decided which one. At the moment we are in the zone for Kennedy School as we live on Lamma. We are considering moving as the ferry and bus journey everyday seems a bit onerous on a 5 year old and that there is very little in the way of local facilities for kids growing up. One possibility for us is to move to Sai Kung or Clearwater Bay where we would still have countryside living but with more better access to facilities and activities.

Anyway any thoughts on the merits or informal rankings of the various ESF schools? I suppose in theory they should all be the same but in practice the staff will make a difference.

Re:Local or International Schools ?

I've been fascinated reading this thread and thought I'd share with you my education to show how some parts have changed radically..and some haven't...

I grew up here and went to school in the 60s and 70s...a year at KJS then we relocated to Macau for 3 years where I studied at Santa Rosa de Lima .....the 67 unrest (really quite bad in Macau) forced us back to Hong Kong where I was enrolled in Sacred Heart Canossian College (a.m. section)....basically there was a huge lack of places in what was to become the ESF schools and as my dad didn't work for a big hong, leverage was out of the question....they did take my brother though, having felt that a 'gwei-loh' boy needed to be assured of a British education over and above his sisters (shrug)

Sacred Heart was tough....my sister and I (she's five years younger mind you) being the only non-chinese students, we stuck out like sore thumbs...though I do owe my parents a great debt for not sending me to St. Paul's as they couldn't bring themselves to put their somewhat dumpy lil girl into a blue cheongsam!!

Some of my lessons at SH were in Cantonese but I'd started to learn that in Macau (you had to do 2 languages there, choices being English Portuguese and Chinese) so I didn't fare TOO badly....until they started to push the religion, I was spending my Saturday afternoons at The Catholic Centre and the straw that broke the camel's back was me asking for a veil...my sis was having nightmares from the textbooks showing children being terrorised by the devil....and my born-Protestant but atheist-leaning dad took it upon himself to complain to mother superior about it all...in the process talking us out of school!!!

Proudly returning home he told my mum that he'd sorted all THAT out....and my sis piped in with "mum!!! he swore at mother superior!!" to which my mum's reply was great...and now what? Well next up was Royden House Junior & Senior School (not RH College) where many the non-caucasian and non-chinese seemed to end up. My classmates were Macanese, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, one American, Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, etc.

Interesting place.....sadly it went downhill somewhat towards the end of my secondary education there (I attended P6 through F5) and I ended up leaving school with ONE GCSE in English...well I could hardly fail that now could I????

I was promptly dispatched to a Kent crammer where I took and passed 5 O Levels in one year and 2 A Levels the next, so we knew my poor results weren't down to me.....I remember teachers at RH refusing to allow participation, the rote learning, I recall being chewed up one day when I refused to pronounce aborigine as 'abor-i-jine'!!!

I had mixed feelings about every school I attended...SH was difficult because I was made to feel so different...one of the nuns used to whack me on the head every day and tell me to tell my mother to brush my hair before I came to school (very curly hair!!)...RH was interesting but provided a poor level of education...mind you the Kent crammer and all those English schoolgirls was yet another eye opener

I think it's great to see more people going into the local system so long as you get what you want out of it....I'm not so sure the rote learning has changed too much....it took me a while to get out of that mindset I can tell you

oh dear I rambled...sorry :oops:

Fiona & Mark

Thanks, Fiona, for sharing your story. It was very interesting.

Mark, I live in Sai Kung and it's great. I've heard people say that Clear Water Bay School is not as rigorous as Shatin Junior. I don't know anything about the other school.

We are switching our kids from local system to ESF this Sept.

the switch

Thanks to both Fiona and Sai Kung Mama for your contributions -- Fiona, that's an amazing story, and one that's quite unusual. SKM, wondering what your reasons for switching your kid(s?) are -- with Toddler Tall rapidly approaching kindergarten age, the choice (i.e. between local vs ESF/International routes) looms larger every day . . . .

switching schools

Hi Mr. T,

I've posted on this subject before, but I was using the username "loupou" that I've decided to change. To recap, the main reasons for the switch were that my husband and I were getting sick of the homework pressure and that I was begining to think my child was not learning as much outsode her first language (English) as she could in her first language. She was also begining to say things like "I am the stupidest girl in my class" because she kept failing her Chinese dictations and tests.

What I did like about her school was the generally loving environment; the excellent maths curriculum; and the way her teachers and headmistress tried to play up her strengths and helped her to feel good about them. But overall, I decided that I wanted her to *love* school and learning, and if that means her reading and writing Chinese will suffer, so be it. She can force herself to cram Chinese characters when she's in her teens or twenties if she wants. We have had enough of home-work induced weeping.

Re:Local or International Schools ?

Hi Folks!
I've been over to HK a few times now and expect to relocate my family there for at least 6 months starting in February. At the moment, my company is really hot to trot about a complex called Parkview and the Hong Kong International School. They REALLY want us to use these. If any of you experienced Hong Kong folks could give me your opinion about these I would be greatly appreciative.

Re:Local or International Schools ?

We've visited friends at Parkview - it was also a flat paid for by their company (the rents are not cheap!). It is very expat-friendly, and would be a good base as a new arrival. If you end up staying longer than six months, you'll have worked out which parts of town you like by then, and will be ready to choose your next flat yourselves.

Sorry, I don't have any idea about HKIS...


Re:Local or International Schools ?

We would be in the same situation with a company flat, actually it looks like the company chooses where we live, take it or leave it. This seems a bit harsh to me but I've gotten the impression from searching around the internet there are not a lot of service flats to choose from. Well grandma is here to watch the kids, so I'm off!



Hi Green as Grass;

Hope you will have a smooth transition to HK life. As Mr B suggests, if you're being placed in Parkview, you're not likely to be suffering unduly.

I know just a bit about HKIS. It's one of the premier international schools in HK, and one of the most expensive (I assume your employer is picking up the tab?). It's got an American feel, and it's quite strongly Christian, in that it's run by the American denomination called the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod). My impression is that Christian parents in general like it a lot, but some people who are strongly secular/don't want their kids being exposed to religious teaching can find it overbearing. But I think its reputation overall is pretty good. It's well-located in regard to Parkview, and it's certainly got good facilities.

Mr Tall

Re:Local or International Schools ?

Hi Mr. Tall, and MrB
Yes, my company is picking up most (but not all) of the tab, I will end paying more than what I'm paying now. Since it is only for 6-9 months I don't think it being Christian will be a problem (as long as it is not "cultish"). I seriously dated a Lutheran a while back and the church seemed reasonable as churches go. I also noticed that there is a preschool in Parkview, and it looks ok.

Oddly enough, one of the complaints my wife has about Parkview (at least what we can glean from the web site) is that it is too nice, too resort like. We won't be able to make it "home". I will be coming out for 3 weeks at the beginning of December (want to go out for Indian?) and I plan on checking it out for myself and take lots of pictures.

My biggest problem with Parkview is my expected commute. I expect to be working long days/nights on Lantau. Since there is not an open train station there yet, we get off at sing yee (wrong spelling) and take a 20 minute bus the rest of the way. This is about an hour 15 min total commute each way, yes?


Re:Local or International Schools ?

Opps that last post was me....

Green as Grass

Re:Local or International Schools ?

The German Swiss International School is excellent. Like the ESF schools, it follows the British system, [there are two streams, the other one follows the German system- obviously].
In my opinion, GSIS is even better than most ESF schools as class sizes are smaller and teachers give the students much more attention. It's reputation is top-notch.
If you are looking for an American education system- HKIS is the way to go.

German Swiss International School

Hi, I go to German Swiss and have done for the past 12 years.

While the academics are generally undisputably excellent, the languages and humanities departments are conceivably stronger than the maths and sciences - due to a dearth of capable science teachers recently. Also, I have noticed that cliques become more defined as you move up the forms; it is impossible to avoid this, trust me, I know.
The german stream is much smaller than the international one. Although the school emphasizes mingling of the streams, not much occurs, usually by mutual agreement. It's very much a 'them vs us' situation, and we internationals find the Germans impossibly arrogant. I suppose it's because the school's named after them.

That said, the 'Guest' that posted before is right; the class sizes are incredibly small; I have 4 people in my English Language class, 6 in my English Literature class and 9 each in my Biology, History and German classes. German is compulsory since P2 - most people hate it with a passion, but I find that reading German comics helps. Graduates invariably enter very good colleges and Universities in Britain, USA and Canada. But mostly the UK. If your eventual goal is the US, go to HKIS or be prepared to slug the required SATs, SAT2s and APs out yourself, this school does not prepare you for any of these other than the occasional token Kaplan Course. Pathetic.

Sorry, I'm rambling. I'm rather cynical about my school, but don't mind that too much, it's a side-effect of spending my entire life in the same place. Hope this helps.

PS There are no religious overtones in school, it's not a talked-about or touted topic.

Re:Local or International Schools ?

Thanks for the encouragement, Saikungmama! By the way, here's another interesting article contrasting cultural attitudes towards academic success: http://www.slate.com/id/2132194/

It's USA-based, but much of it will sound very very familiar to readers here in Hong Kong.

parental attitudes towards school

Hi Mr T.,

I might have already recommended it, but "Preschool in 3 Cultures" by Joseph J. Tobin, David Y.H. Wu, Dana H. Davidson, although 16 years old, provides a fascinating insight into how preschool education both reflect a society's attitudes towards the questions of "how best do people learn" "what sort of human should we try to shape". It's a really great read, and not full of academic jargon as you might fear.

Another interesting book is Zeng Kangmin's "Dragon gate : competitive examinations and their consequences" where he looks at the college entrance examiniation cultures in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. Similarities and differences! People in Taiwan it seems are very much against anything counting towards college placement except examination results, because they think that other qualities are too subjective and could also lead to a corruption of the process.

re: the Slate article - it is truly hard work to make sure your kid studies (unless you are one of those lucky parents w/ naturally quiet, diligent, and biddable children). We feel happy if we can just get our kids to do a couple of extra pages of maths and English in addition to their relatively light work-load at school.