Schools Applications Season in Hong Kong

In some parts of the States and Canada, they have Hunting Season. Singapore has Shopping Season. In Malaysia there is Durian (well, also Mangosteen, really) Season. And then of course in Hong Kong you have Schools Applications Season. Which possibly can also be The Hunting, Shopping And Yes, (Prickly Like) Durian Season.

Inconsequential picture of JD because I don’t know how to put any Rockstar pics to make this more interesting, without feeling a little weird because it’s about school application. Somehow, I thought putting a picture of my dog catching a stick is better. 

As proud “ESF K2 parents” Kings and I attended the briefing held yesterday to prep us for the primary school application/ “interview” (in quote marks because we watch a DVD and they keep stressing it’s really not an “interview” interview, ie not like say, a job interview as we know it.) We note a few sniggers in the packed-to-standing-room-only-with-several-hundred-parents auditorium when the DVD mentions how parents “should relax” while their kids are in the evaluation. Obviously everyone’s nervous.

Rumors were rife before this thing: Kids have to know all their ABCs and 123s by December. It’s tough going, filling the online application (which has to be inputted all in one go). Kids get asked if they are native Cantonese speakers. (Apparently it is common that native Cantonese-speaking parents then don’t teach their kids Cantonese so as to fall in ESF’s Category 1 applicants, ie those who cannot easily access the local system.)

Years ago I sat next to a local ex colleague in the dealing room who arranged for his (then 4-year old) son to call him in the office to have perfect English phone conversations because his wife spoke little English. Another ex-colleague (who has a British passport but also a non-English-speaking local spouse) had his son respond, “I don’t understand your accent,” if he was unable to communicate with the evaluating teacher. Listening to my BBC ex-colleague (who btw speaks English with a very proper British accent but just wasn’t home enough in his son’s earlier years – and they were considering an eventual move to the UK) back then, I couldn’t understand the what the big deal was – til now.

So we’re taken through what the “interview” is and is not, how to navigate the website to submit the online application, and reassured that they are aware the children are well, 4. We are also shown how shy or quiet children would not be left out in the evaluation process. And that there would be communication between ESF kindergarten and primary school that should negate “surprises” on outcomes. (The right primary school for our catchment area would come into the kindergarten to observe the child as well.)

A time sticks in my mind: 12.37 midnight, 1st September. Think I heard them say that is the record for the earliest received (valid I guess) application submitted online. (Application period 1st – 30 Sept, during which No One Cares how early you submit, btw – we will therefore be submitting sometime mid Sept after the first wave of stampeding applications.)

Great shades of my registering for subjects during my Nanyang Technological University, Singapore days. An ex was popular and enlisted by not a few classmates to help register for classes – and the desirable classes get filled in like, 10 minutes per registration batch – very important, getting the absolute right-timed class, because if you skipped more than 2 without valid mc you might not get to take the exam. Speaking of which, I also remember being coached on picking subjects at start of term based on how the end-of-term exam schedule had been drawn up, to give maximum study time between papers. And as is, I was in a course that averaged 3 Cambridge A-level Distinctions to get in, if you had 2 As and a B – and I knew only 1 guy with that – you would NOT want to publicize the fact. My point is – I am quite familiar with erm, that school of thought and I appreciate not having to inflict it on my not-yet 4 year old. It is an active choice on my part not to.    

What I respected was that they look for communication skills (including the ability to communicate a lack of comprehension and ask for help – BBC ex-colleague take note, it wasn’t the accent per se) rather than simply the ability to read/ write/ do math. I really liked that, because this isn’t say, a college entrance exam, they are little children – the school is going to teach them these skills and is therefore evaluating their readiness to be taught, rather than say, an ability to already do all this and – I don’t know, can’t that also be spun when you pick kids that have already had all the tuition in reading, writing etc as making your own job easier?

Kings (to me, during Q n A): What do you think they’d do if kids start fighting?

Me: Erm, evaluate whether the kids use big words to scold each other?

THIS IS A JOKE. (And why did I think somewhere in Hong Kong there is going to be someone coaching a 4 year old to throw a hissy with big words, that I actually needed to say that was a joke.)

Instead of it being HORRIBLE, I was hoping to try and look at it as kind of exciting, (we are blessed with a child!) like this is all a rite of passage if you’re living in Hong Kong with small child. (Though a girlfriend in Singapore told me it can sometimes get Like That for small kids there too – she saw a picture of the queues of applicants to “elite, bilingual” Nanyang Primary School, where Jim Rogers famously sends his daughter. The picture in local papers some time back drew attention apparently because at the head of the queue was a Caucasian (or White, sorry) parent, not say, an “obviously Asian” parent that could more easily pass for local Singaporean, who said they’d been queueing since an unearthly hour…)

In case you’re wondering, I won’t be blogging too much more about the whole admissions thing because I’m really nervous and don’t want to jinx it etc etc so check back in a few months :) But I had to kickoff my erm, “silence” going into The Season by saying (oxymoron alert!) we will never have “perfect” information, we are not going to try every single thing that’s out there (and I have a blog post for the future about why not haha), BUT.

I have to give credit where it’s due – we don’t claim to know everything, but what we do know is over the past year we’ve gotten more and more happy with Rockstar’s progress at his kindy. Somehow as it is his only “formal school setting” we then have the idea it forms some basis around which he then gets engrossed with a microscope looking at bug slides in some foreign museum, or takes to one-on-one ski lessons when we’re off at a resort. That’s more valuable to us than simply knowing reading, writing, arithmetic before he’s 4. And he’s well, at an ESF Kindergarten, so then moving on to an ESF Primary school becomes our natural first choice.

Another inconsequential JD picture. Because it’s blue and looks nice against the text.

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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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