When parents first consider the various international schools around Hong Kong, their main concern is usually based on academics and also on the level of emphasis placed on (usually Mandarin) language learning. Often other aspects of the school day are considered secondary, but many international schools still put a lot of focus on activities outside the classroom, such as sports. Here we discuss some of the criteria that parents should also consider when selecting the right school for their child.
The amount of homework varies greatly between schools, with some schools requiring very little in the primary years in particular. While the learning of Mandarin requires regular attention, English emphasis in the younger years tends to revolve around reading. An interesting measure suggested by one international school is to expect approximately 10 minutes of homework per grade, per night.
Other schools assign homework on a weekly basis, encouraging students to plan their time. Ideally, they shouldn’t leave everything to the last minute and rush their work the night before its due date!
As students progress, they are expected to bear more responsibility for homework planning, and by the time they reach International Baccalaureate Diploma level, homework has become more along the lines of guidance on the part of the teachers, allowing students to do their own research.
In most international schools, sport is positively encouraged, inside school and out. Generally it is possible to find outlets for all sports – from common activities like football, gymnastics, and swimming, to niche ones such as ice hockey and horse riding. It is worth noting that some schools allow non-students to participate in sporting extracurricular activities. Often, this is because an external independent company using the schools facilities, runs activities.
Music is also another important subject in international schools and is often extended to lessons and practice outside of normal school hours but within the school environment. Overall sports and music are considered a vital and integral part of education in international schools.
External activities and skills
Scouts and Guides are very popular around Hong Kong, and are often available at international schools as extracurricular activities. They give access to a worldwide network offering leadership experience and life skills training, as well as adventure!
Most schools offer day trips for the younger year groups and longer trips further afield for older students. Again, these are seen as an important part of education. For older children, trips might involve several days at outdoor pursuit centres learning to abseil, canoe or other activities. These trips aim to instil life skills and leadership experiences, including team building. For secondary students trips may form a combination, e.g. a geography field trip along with charity work in countries around Asia.
If your school does not offer the activity you are looking for, it is sometimes possible to pursue it through a private club via their youth section. Whether you are considering sailing, football, battle of the books, or orienteering, most schools offer competitive opportunities between schools in Hong Kong, be they local or international schools and also between schools around the region. Some children have tutors and activities every night of the week and throughout the weekends, and while schools encourage activities outside of the school environment, these should not be to the detriment of the academics and welfare of the child. It is important to keep it balanced.
Of course there are strong arguments also for not over-scheduling a child, as it is generally thought to be good experience for them to learn how to occupy themselves rather than have every hour of the day pre-planned for them. An interesting BBC article on 23 March by Hannah Richardson, “Children should be allowed to get bored” suggests that with no technological or adult organisation or influence, children are encouraged to use their imagination. With this in mind, when almost everything is accessible out there, getting the balance right is perhaps one of the most difficult things to do.