There are few things more important than choosing a primary school that’s right for your little one. So what things should you consider when making the choice?
So it’s back to school for me…. well it certainly feels like it, as I start cramming on the primary school options for my eldest. As a non-Cantonese speaker I appear to be in the bottom set when it comes to choices, as although there seems to be a number of international schools available – over 40 in fact – they all follow their own curriculum and application process so I have a huge amount of revising if I am ever going to pass this exam. So to help me (and you) figure out how to choose the best school for my child, I turned to my son’s pre-school parent liaison officer, Lisa Olinski at Safari Kid International Preschool to help me understand what my options are.
Me: How old are the students when they start primary school?
Lisa: The students are 6-years old when they enter a local primary school. For international schools as a general rule, they enter in the calendar year that they turn five. Some schools might suggest entering the next year if they have a late birthday. An even more important question to consider is when to apply, as some schools you can apply to from birth and definitely don’t miss the application deadlines.
First and foremost, figure out which year for which your child is applying. Education experts who help with the school applications process, Top Schools, has helpfully put together the Grade calendar.
Me: What are the primary school options for Hong Kong students – English, Cantonese or Mandarin speakers?
Lisa: There are a wide variety of options in Hong Kong to support speakers of many different languages, for international schools you typically need English and Mandarin. You need to consider first what kind of curriculum you want, in what languages you want it taught, and what other factors are important to you such as extra-curricular activities. Some schools are best known for being stronger in their English or Mandarin programs. A few offer additional language streams.
In Hong Kong, there is a range from Montessori, IB, local and specialized curriculum such as the Ontario curriculum, and I think the schools here are, for the most part, up to a high standard and will support your children well. Some of the choice comes down to personal preference or for those moving back to their home country in a shorter timeframes, matching the school with that goal.
At the primary level, it is very important to visit the school often. Remember, it is not just they who are interviewing you, you also have choice. I have had many parents through the course of the application process change their mind about the school after spending time there. Your whole feeling about the facilities, staff, etcetera, are very important.
Me: Are all schools fee paid? Are there any non-fee paying schools for only English students?
Lisa: There are some schools that have offered some scholarships and these are highly competitive. In the international school stream, to my knowledge, there are no schools that are free of fees. In the local schools that are subsidized by the government, students have entered speaking only English but they will have instruction in additional languages.
Me: What are the different application processes for primary schools?
Lisa: For international schools, each school has its own timeline and requirements. You can usually expect, on top of the application form, a request for a reference letter, some proof of past academic achievement, and an interview later on.
Me: How should preschools prepare your child for the transition to primary school?
Lisa: To prepare a child for primary school, you need to create a brave, independent and eager learner. As children transition through from playgroup to pre-nursery to kindergarten, we have to teach them to develop critical cognitive, social, emotional, physical, creative and reasoning skills. Of course children will also learn the academic skills needed to succeed, but a good school that focuses on developing all elements doesn’t need to prepare them in any additional way. Children need understand their time at one school is coming to an end, and they will have new friends at their new school. When both parents and teachers explain to them the next step, children can often change from nervous to excited for the experience!
Me: What criteria should be used when parents pick a school for their child?
Lisa: As I touched on a bit curriculum plays a role but it’s not everything, just like anything in life there are many factors to consider and need to be balanced. To narrow things down the languages offered and to what degree they are taught in are a big factor, curriculum is as well but many schools nowadays follow a version of the IB curriculum. You need to really think of what is important to you; it is hard to make a wrong choice if you have honestly thought about this question and what it means to you! For some parents class sizes are important and others they are not, it is a very personal question. One thing I would definitely consider the quality of the high school program and linkages to Universities, as once you have gotten your child into school you won’t want to have to change it.