Sunday, April 4, 2010

School daze

Last week (apologies for the delay but the lack of blog access at Gnome bank means I don't get as much time to write as I once did) saw me making the crucial decision about pre-schools for Eve. In HK this is no small matter. If my local Chinese colleagues are to be believed, this is the single most important decision I will ever make about Eve and if I get it wrong I could ruin her life. I do not exaggerate. The Chinese cultural focus on education is huge. You can't go down a main street in HK without bumping into hole-in-the wall schools for music, art, academics. The local media has widely covered the burgeoning industry in celebrity tutors, whose faces beam out at you from the backs of buses and have such trendy names as Ken O.

Of course, like most things a large degree of this is down to money and education is a good money making enterprise. I don't know a parent alive who wouldn't give up the clothes off their back if they thought it would help their child get a head start in life. However, there is also a grain of truth in that HK schools are intensely competitive.

If you are a local Chinese parent you have the choice of the local system. However, the good local schools are much like anywhere else and over subscribed and highly selective in the students that they take. They also tend to have either formal or informal feeder pre-schools and primary schools so it becomes even more essential that the right place is gained at the age of 2.

All other parents, expats included, have to look to the private or semi-private system. The private schools (known as "international" schools here as if this gives some sort of extra status) are relatively easy to get into as long as you throw money at them. To even be considered for a place you need to buy a debenture - a sort of bond system that the school uses to raise money. The cost of these vary, but the top ones come in at around HK$1million (about GBP 80k or US$ 130,000). This doesn't even guarantee you a place! You then have to pay a fee for application to the school and if you get in you are looking at a cost of around HK$100,00 per year just on fees.

The other system is a throwback to the colonial era and is called the English Schools Foundation. This is part funded by the government and the annual fees are about 75% of what you pay for an international school, it has a mixed ability intake and even special needs support and you can only apply the year your child is due to go. They don't have feeder schools and admission is mainly based on language because the mission of the schools are to provide education for children who don't speak Chinese and can't be educated in the local system. That said, about 80% of the students are local Chinese anyway. Guess which system Eve will go into!

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