26 April 2009

Thoughts on Education



Yes, I know that it is illegal to homeschool in Hong Kong.

Just this past week, though, I've "met" quite a number of mommies on the blogosphere who homeschool and as I read through some of their posts, I think to myself, "It would be good if I can do it with the tikesters, too."

Yes, it would be good. Would I, if I could, though? Honest answer: I don't know.
Probably not.

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Education* here in Hong Kong can be very expensive. Sure, we could send our kids to local schools, but I have yet to come across any that suits our needs.

Most of the local schools use Cantonese as a medium of instruction (with the exception of language classes in English and/or Mandarin); our tikesters do not speak Cantonese. Not that big an issue in itself, because I know that if we persist, they will acquire the language somehow. Kids learn languages far more easily than adults. But I am concerned that we might not be able to support their learning at home. Neither Chris nor I can read Chinese well enough to be able to fully help in case they have questions with their lessons. I want to be as involved as I can and know what they learn in school and I want to be able to supplement and reinforce lessons outside of school. Not so much as ramming down their throats more academic learning, but rather giving them additional exposure, where we can, to topics of interest by having little conversations, reading fun books related to what they're currently learning, etc. I won't be able to do that well if I can't really read their notes or lessons that are written in Chinese. I'd be out of my comfort zone in terms of sharing the right information (in Chinese) with the kids. (Whether or not it is fair that we're holding them back from an opportunity to learn more Chinese just because we, the parents, are not perfectly at ease with the language ourselves begs further discussion, though.)

Another consideration when it comes to local schools: l assume that the teachers' use of Cantonese is impeccable, as it would be their native tongue, but I worry over the school's lessons in English or even Mandarin. I know of local schools' English teachers whose knowledge of and familiarity with English is not what I would expect an English teacher's to be -- and I do not mean their accent when they speak English. Sometimes schools hire English teachers based on "appearances" --i.e., non-Asian, preferably Caucasian-looking, speaks with an American or British accent. Never mind that their spelling is appalling or that they themselves would need grammar lessons, as long as they "look" qualified to teach English, even if academically, they aren't.

Other things: I don't quite subscribe to rote learning nor do I believe in too much homework, which is what characterize many local schools here.
Many of them have big class sizes (30 to a class).

"International" schools, where education is supposedly less rigid, are not the answer for us either. For one, the cost of an international school education is very expensive. Most require debentures of a few hundred thousand dollars (HK$), with some even running into millions. This is on top of the tuition fee, which is generally around HK$10,000+ per month (about US$1,300/month). Long wait-lists. Students from international schools are sometimes perceived as lacking in discipline, at least compared to their counterparts in local schools. There can be pressure to "keep up with the Jones'" --what with school trips to the Maldives, birthday party favors from Tiffany, etc.

Given the available options on both local and international schools, homeschooling is looking rather appealing.

But it's not happening. Not only because it is illegal, but also because I don't think I have the patience nor the discipline to do it successfully.

What to do? So we join the ranks of many Hong Kong parents (locals and expats) who stress over their children's education and apply to different schools and pray that the school our tikesters end up in would be the right school for them.

I wonder if it was as hard to choose a school in our parents' days.

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*I'm talking mainly about primary school education in this post.

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