To inform entertain and excite my kids, Jamie, Patrick, Aaron & Sarah Middleburgh, our family and friends.

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Hong Kong

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At the begining of this year I toyed with the idea of writing a humerous little piece about my (son's) experience of Hong Kong Preschools. But on reflection I find myself drawn to their dark side....

The Hong Kong educational system is propably as competitive as you can get.(It's a Chinese Thing - see the Tiger Mother Clip below). My older kids went through school in UK, Australia and Ireland - not even close !! Think Jesuits or Christian Bothers on steroids.... and you are not even in the same galaxy....

At primary and secondary school level we have Government funded and subsidized schools (run by charities). These follow a very "intense" local curriculum normally taught in the mother tongue - Mandarin or Cantonese. Additionally there are private and Direct Subsidy Scheme Schools which strive for higher academic exellence, and because of the international character of Hong Kong, Private International Schools and an English Schools Foundation both of which provide an alternative to the high-pressured mainstream education. The curricula followed by these may be based on the International Baccalaureate or a national curriculum eg the Singaporean National Curriculum. Typically teaching in ESF and International Schools is in English which means that not only are they frequently the school of choice for English speaking expats but also for local chinese who believe that mastery of English is a key to future success. It was assumed by my wife's family (who are Chinese) that #3 son would be going to an International School. They were quite shocked when we said we weren't sure.

Like anywhere else the trick is to get offered a place at a scholl where you child will get a suitable eductation and from which they can move up to an equally prestigeous or even better school at the next level. This means that getting a place at the right nusery/prenursery to get on the ladder is key. In practical terms it means that when your baby is about 8 - 12 months old you start making formal applications for places. Normally your child has to be walking before being accepted at for lowest level(prenursery) and be potty trained for the next level. After that it's all down to language and social skills. The prudent parent will apply to multiple nurseries and go on wait lists moving their child as places become available like chess pieces about a board positioning for endgame.

Because demand for places at better nurseries excedes availability you have to apply early and be prepared to go for an interview. Whilst your baby is observed and assessed as he plays/interacts with the other children and the staff, one or both parents may be interviewed; I went to one group intreview where we were given a standard spiel about about the schools approach and how important home support was especially for languages.This particular institution did 2 streams morning/afternoon and alternated teaching daily between english and cantonese. After the "lecture" each family was put on spot and asked the loaded question "what languages were spoken at home". I was gobsmacked by the honesty of the mostly chinese parents who were dressed up as is for a job interview, and who struggled to justify why they only spoke English or Chinese to their child at home (eg they didn't want to confuse them at home which was why they wanted them to learn the other language at school etc etc.) No one lied even though the question was clearly screening for families who used both languages and staff facial expressions indicated dissaproval when given the "wrong" answer. (clearly none played poker). I (jeans, teashirt and bomber jacket) kept shtum until finally the assistant principal, fixed me with her gimlet eye and quizzed me. My answer was "precisely" truthful. "I speak english , My wife is a native Cantonese speaker, I have three sister in laws who are native Putonghua speakers" (I got beaming smiles!)

Fortunately #3 seems to do well in assessments. We think this is partly because when we first started sending him to prenursery we had diffulty placing him in one group for all sessions. We ended up sending him concurrently to 3 groups at 2 different nurseries which meant he was exposed to different children, teachers, and teaching methods, so when he is thrown in with new kids at an interview day he settles right in and quietly gets on with it. We also spend a lot of time talking and reading to him in both English and Chinese so he has a reasonably good vocabulary. At one interview he picked out a toy dolphin and a starfish from a sand pit and mimed the dolphin jumping over the star fish saying "Look the dolphin's jumping over the star fish". The assessing teacher seemed taken aback because he didn't say something simple like "the fish is jumping over a star" (we are faily certain that one of his library books had a dolphin jumping over something). He recently freaked out one of his friends parents the other day in the car.They were passing a road repair crew and he commented knowlegably on the construction equipment being used (diggers, rollers, and dump trucks) in both English and Cantonese. He is also learning Putongua (Mandarin) in his current nursery (whose principal is a native of Limerick) where sessions are taken alternately in English and Putongua. In fact my wife has had to brush up her putongua to keep up with him. (I of course have mastered neither cantonese nor putongua and some even question my English)

We are (well I am) looking forward to when he is older and goes for his primary school interviews. Some schools expect a CV or portfolio. eg samples of work or proof statements about achievements and extra curricular activities ie what courses did you complete during your summer holday; how many instruments played, what sports, how many awards recieved etc . They may also interview the candidate (aged 5,alone under bright shinny lights, spanish inqisition style). One colleague told of his child being asked what would do he do if was given 10$. (buying ice cream is not an acceptable answer ) So We have already started to coach #3 NOT to simply ask for more!! The current prefered answer to that question is to say that he will give it to his brother. And when asked why, he has to explain that his brother works for a merchant bank and can invest it for him to maximize the return on capital (A truely acceptable Hong Kong answer!!)

And you thought this post was going to be about HOT CHINESE MAMAS ?

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