International families share their experiences of local schools with Adele Brunner.
Chris and Leonor Davies sent their daughter, Ocean, now 12, to a local kindergarten, primary and secondary schools.
I’m British, my wife is Filipina and our daughter, Ocean, was born in Hong Kong, where we’ve been living for 25 years. This is her home and we wanted her to learn the native language. So many kids are born here, go to an international school and then university overseas. When they decide they want to come back to Hong Kong to work, they are often stymied because they don’t have the necessary Chinese to find a job.
My wife worked in a Chinese trading company and I have travelled extensively in China. Chinese companies have expanded everywhere in the world so if somebody can speak the language, it has real appeal for employers. We also concluded that travel is a big part of education. There are Cantonese restaurants wherever you go, so at the very least, Ocean could always get a job washing dishes in one of them!
We live in Sai Kung and Ocean went to local schools: Lok Yuk Kindergarten and Lee Siu Yam Memorial School (LSY), a government-run primary school, with some of the best views in Hong Kong. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and was, I believe, the first government school to offer a tailor-made Chinese/English education programme for non-nativespeaking students. It is a dual Cantonese/English curriculum with Putonghua elements. One day everything is taught in Cantonese and the next, in English. The programme was established seven or eight years ago as an Education Bureau experiment and has been such a success that it has added a third class for children starting school this month. The families sending their children to LSY (and it’s not all about cost) are diverse. Most of Ocean’s friends are Chinese but there are Thai, Australian-Chinese, English and English-Chinese students at the school. Cantonese is predominantly the playground language but Ocean has never had any communication problems with children or teachers. Homework wasn’t particularly overbearing but LSY ran afterschool tuition classes in which children could stay behind for an hour a day and go through homework. Ocean loved LSY. Even if she wasn’t feeling well, she would still want to go in and I think she was only absent for two days during her time there. She learned to read, write and speak Cantonese and is now fluent. Hearing her speak, most people don’t realise she’s not from a Hong Kong-Chinese family.
The school was also very good at integrating sport and art into the curriculum: taekwondo, hip hop and art. Teaching is a vocation for a lot of the teachers at LSY and they just want to use their skills to enrich the lives of the children. Ocean now goes to the Hong Kong Taoist Association The Yuen Yuen Institute no.3 Secondary School (YY3), quite a wacky place in a housing estate in Tseung Kwan O. It is using the same integrated curriculum model as LSY but has only done so for three years. Ocean was the only one of her friends to go on to this school – one got a scholarship to a top Chinese school, others went to Creative Secondary School [in Tseung Kwan O] – but she has been placed in the top English class and one of the highest-ranking Chinese classes. She is an example of the pros of going to a local school.