Navigating Hong Kong’s hyper-competitive school system is perhaps one of the most stressful elements of being a parent in this town. We’ve all heard the horror stories of waitlists, mind-blowing debentures, and the like, so we turned to Ruth Benney, Head Girl at the newly launched Top Schools, for her answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.
1. When should I start thinking about schools?
As early as possible. Some primary schools start at 5 and some at 6. And, mostly, you’ll need to apply at least one year before entry. For some schools, it’s almost impossible to get into unless your child is coming up from their kindergarten.
Let’s take an example:
Victoria Educational Organisation runs playgroups, kindergartens and one through- train school.
Mrs Chan’s son, Sam, is born in December 2011. Mr & Mrs Chan would like Sam to go Victoria Shanghai Academy for primary. This school starts at age 6, after K3. So, Sam will be starting in Aug/Sept 2017.
To increase the chance that Sam will get a place at Victoria Shanghai Primary School, Mr & Mrs Chan will enrol him into the kindergarten from K1. He’ll start there at age 3 – in 2014. He could possibly start in nursery at age 2 – in 2013. Either way, Mr & Mrs Chan will need to apply a year earlier – either in 2012 or 2013.
Let’s say Mr & Mrs Chan do choose to enrol him in nursery. They’ll need to absolutely sure of their choice and ready to apply in by November/December 2012. Sam will be about a year old.
So, we say – it’s never too early. If you’ve not thought about it seriously by the time your child celebrates their first birthday, start then.
2. Should I choose an international or local school?
Actually, to divide the schools into either ‘local’ or ‘international’ is too simplistic. We have five types of schools in Hong Kong.
They vary in terms of governance, funding, fees, curricula, student population and languages offered.
So we suggest not to get too concerned about definitions. Our advice is to keep an open mind and search for schools that meet your requirements.
A good place to start is at www.topschools.hk. We carry detailed listings on all types of schools except the local, free, government schools.
3. Which schools have a strong Chinese program?
We couldn’t possibly answer this – there’s just too many variables. However, if bilingualism is a priority for you, we have a few suggestions.
Investigate the Medium of Instruction(s) (MOI) of the schools. If a school claims to teach in English & Chinese, we suggest you probe further. Find out:
■ What does ‘Chinese’ mean? Cantonese or Putonghua? Traditional or simplified characters?
■ Are the teachers Native English/Putonghua speakers?
■ What proportion of the day is taught in each language?
■ Are the students streamed?
■ Is the other language used to teach other subjects?
■ What is the playground language?
At topschools.hk, we’re working hard to clarify this with the schools directly. When you search the school profiles, you’ll see Chinese defined as either Cantonese or Putonghua and simplified or traditional characters.
We define Medium of Instruction in this way: the language used to teach a subject or content.
School A defines itself as a school with a mixed MOI of English & Putonghua. It teaches all subjects in English except Chinese lessons which are taught in Putonghua.
School B defines itself as a school with a mixed MOI of English & Cantonese. It teaches Maths, Science, PE & Library in English and Maths, Chinese, Social Studies and Art in Cantonese.
So, we define School A as having an English only MOI and School B as having a mixed MOI of English & Cantonese.
At the end of the day, we suggest you visit the school armed with the questions above.
Got more questions? Send ’em in and we’ll get it sorted for you.