Kindergarten is the first stop on your child’s educational journey. Once you know where you want them to end up, then you can start planning.
Any parent in Hong Kong contemplating their child’s first educational steps will be well aware of, and likely confused by, the array of choices when it comes to the variety of kindergartens here. In the last year alone, there has been an explosion in new kindergartens opening in Hong Kong that offer a non-local curriculum. According to the Hong Kong Education Bureau, 1,030 kindergartens operate in the city (as of 2017/2018). Of that number, 881 are classified as local while 149 are non-local.
With so much choice, parents may feel it is hard to see the wood for the trees. We recommend a strategic approach focused on admissions at primary school. That is not to say you should settle for a kindergarten you dislike, just that you should not choose a school you do like without considering some practical realities.
Let us examine the path. First, decide where you are going, then how you are going to get there and when to start making a plan.
Begin with the end in mind
Your child will stay in kindergarten for a maximum of three years, so view this period as a stepping stone towards primary school. It is essential to know if the kindergarten has a good track record in sending their graduates to your desired primary school. Ask the kindergarten for their placement statistics and scrutinise them. If they are unwilling to share, walk away.
Of course, many kindergartens are affiliated with primary schools. At these preschools, ask about the process of enrolling in primary. Is it guaranteed? Is it even necessary to apply? If you are not interested in your kindergarten’s affiliated primary school, consider carefully whether it is worth opting for.
Ensure your child can acquire the requisite skills
The number one reason children are not accepted into a primary school is that their English proficiency falls short. Hong Kong families can be complex, often with three or four languages being spoken. However, remember that an English-based international primary school does not take this into consideration. Most of the top-tier schools will accept nothing less than native-level English.
Other common reasons children are not accepted into primary schools include not meeting developmental milestones. These cover the following areas: language and cognitive milestones, movement and motor skills, and development.
Although children grow and develop at their own pace, you should monitor their development and be concerned if your child has not reached their milestones. Possible signs of developmental delay in 4- to 5-year-old children include:
- Being extremely afraid, shy or aggressive
- Being extremely anxious when separated from a parent
- Being easily distracted and unable to focus on one task for more than five minutes
- Not wanting to play with other children
- Not making eye contact or responding to teachers
- Being unable to say their full name
- Often seeming sad and unhappy and not expressing a wide range of emotions
- Having problems eating, sleeping or using the bathroom
- Having trouble undressing, being unable to brush their own teeth, or wash and dry their hands without help
Know when to keep calm and when to panic While some schools in Hong Kong still do accept applications from birth, unfortunately this only serves to generate panic. When I raised this issue on the “Hong Kong Schools” Facebook page it elicited dozens of heartfelt responses within minutes. Every parent agreed that this outdated practice only serves to fuel anxieties rather than ease them.
Many parents erroneously believe that enrolling their child at birth will grant them some kind of priority and will place them higher up the waitlist. However, this is rarely the case.
Nowadays, waitlists have largely been replaced by waitpools. This system appears to only work in favour of the schools, which make final enrolment decisions based on family background, interviews and discretion.
The good news is that most schools will accept applications only within a prescribed period – usually one or two years before intended entry.
So, keep calm in the first six months. As your child is approaching their first birthday, this is a good time to start planning. Begin with the end in mind, ensuring you are giving your child the appropriate environment to acquire the requisite skills, and do seek assistance from a professional consultant if you prefer.
If you do not have a confirmed place in an international school for your child to enter when he or she is approaching five, then, and only then, go ahead and panic
Originally article is published in the ‘SCMP Good Schools Guide Kindergartens 2020/2021’ under the title of ‘The End is the Beginning’ and was written by Top Schools Founder and Head Girl, Ruth Benny. If you would like a copy of the Good Schools Guide for Kindergartens, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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