Mum Alexandra Pilgrim wonders at the wisdom of Hong Kong’s competitive – and complex – preschool system.
In the lead up to our big move from Australia to Hong Kong earlier this year, I searched high and low for a mummy blogger of young children living in the territory for more thoughts on the kindergarten and preschool experiences here. I could not find such a blog so, six months in, here are my thoughts.
Let me start with this disclaimer; yes, we do have an excellent live-in helper. I work from home with my two girls who since the move have been home with me all day, every day. I try not to complain because I know how lucky I am to have a job that allows me to work from home and spend so much time with the children, and how lucky we are to have help. But still, for someone who is new to Hong Kong, or a new parent, the differences in childcare and education systems are overwhelming.
There are accompanied playgroups which run for an hour or so. There is also pre-nursery for children for two to three hours, three to five days a week. And from three-and-a-half kindergarten starts for around three hours a day, five days a week.
But I just wish Hong Kong had something called long day care.
Back ‘home’ in Australia, the majority of working parents rely on childcare centres. They are open for a full, 12-hour day. Most centres provide morning tea, a hot cooked lunch, afternoon tea and a late snack. Or, if you don’t work, or work part-time, there are community kindergartens that operate shorter days and are cheaper.
And in Australia, kindergarten is not a competitive sport. Of course parents want their children to attend a school with a good reputation. But criteria would still be a warm vibe, clean facilities and fun activities rather than academic achievements.
Not one single part of me is ok with paying $7,000 for my daughter to go to kindergarten.
Now I know I sound jaded and the truth is I am a little. But there is not one single part of me that is ok with paying HK$7,000 (almost AUS$1,200) a month for my daughter to go a largely unheard of ‘middle of the road’ international kindergarten. But it’s that or a local kindy which for myriad reasons is not an option for us. I won’t even go into debentures or capital levies, as that might send me right over the edge. And many of these facilities don’t even have an outdoor play area.
But that’s enough bagging the Hong Kong system. Let’s just say the options were overwhelming when I first arrived here. After madly looking at different options, listening to different people, hyperventilating over fees and flip-flopping about what was important, I just stopped. I would never be this concerned in Australia, so I reasoned I shouldn’t be losing sleep over it here. I stopped applying and paying application fees for a bunch of schools I wasn’t even sure I liked.
My priorities were a warm and loving environment, a ‘learn through play’ approach. Somewhere with a proper outdoor play area with grass and dirt, reasonable fees, a convenient location. A kindy that was just a kindy and not on the campus of a through train school.
It took a few months but eventually I found ‘the one’. It’s not completely perfect, but it meets our criteria. And most importantly, we think our daughter will be happy there.
Undoubtedly there are better kindies than the one we have chosen. There are always ones with a better academic record, ones with a better Mandarin programme, ones with more modern buildings and facilities, maybe even ones with a better playground. But the point I’m trying to make is that while the education system in Hong Kong is complex, try not to let that cloud what you actually want for your children.
We are now three weeks into the term and it has been a mostly positive experience so far. We’ve had only two massive meltdowns at drop-off (which is pretty good for my daughter!) and missed two days due to typhoons. But Indi is coming home happy, and most days with new Mandarin words, which is pretty cute.
One thing she is struggling with is the injustice of having to go to school every single day. Little does she know this is just the beginning.
I run my own business and I am struggling to fit in everything between drop off and pick up and some days I am tempted just to keep her at home, but then I remember the fees. But we are both getting the hang of rushing out of the door every morning and although we are late more days than we’re on time, I think we’re getting there.
Keep up-to-date with Pilgrim’s adventures at theindico.net.