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Charlie Suo Xiaozhao is typical of the Chinese-speaking parents who opt to send their children to international schools. After moving to Hong Kong from Australia 13 years ago, Suo and her husband, Lai Yu-ting, decided to send their three-year old daughter, Leah Lai, to Boxhill International Kindergarten & Preschool in Fo Tan for pre-nursery classes. Their youngest child, Kayla, who turns one later this year, will also take the international route.
Leah is a current student of Boxhill International Kindergarten & Preschool.
“I moved to Australia during my early teens, so I’m aware of the difference between local and overseas education in terms of style,” Suo says. “We prefer the international stream because I believe that teachers will encourage our children to think for themselves, instead of just following the rules. It’s really important that our children are encouraged to think creatively and critically.
Children are encouraged to think creatively instead of merely following the rules.
“I’m not a big fan of local primary and secondary schools, because I feel that they stress rote learning and memorisation. Also, if our children go to an international school, it will be easier for them to ease back into the Australian education system when we move back there.”
Another benefit is that applying to an international primary school is seen as more straightforward, avoiding the maze of paperwork the local system expects for discretionary and central allocations. Usually, parents submit an application to their preferred schools, with a standard interview to follow. It is advisable, though, to submit applications as early as possible, since waiting lists can be long.
The Direct Subsidy Scheme (DSS), which aims to improve the quality of private schools, is an alternative. DSS schools generally teach in English, but have a curriculum with a strong Chinese language component. Competition for places is keen, attracting applicants from local and non-local families.
Suo is well aware that, without a subsidy, costs can mount up, with international kindergartens charging from around HK$53,000 up to HK$180,000-plus a year. It may also be necessary to fund a non-interest bearing debenture, which can range from HK$70,000 to much higher for some degree of priority.
Suo and her husband usually speak English with Leah.
Parents should also give due consideration to the language factor.
“My friends’ children go to a local kindergarten, and they can think and speak in Putonghua, Cantonese and English,” Suo says. “That is very impressive.” She and her husband usually speak English with their children, who use Cantonese with their grandparents when they are with them during the weekend.
“I am not sure if our children’s Chinese will be on par with their peers in the local system, but we will supplement it by teaching them more Chinese at home,” Suo says. “If we have to choose between Chinese-language skills and critical thinking, we will choose the latter. If you grow up encouraged to think on your feet and outside the box, you will go far in life.”