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It seems I’m destined to be drowning in applications for Nene every year. First there was the applications for kindergarten which he attended for a year, then I decided to switch to another school. Thankfully, the admission process for that one, being a new school, was peaceful. The plan was to keep him there for three years after which we most likely were supposed to move to India. For that reason, we decided he would repeat the first year of kindergarten our bases were covered till be left. This has worked out very well for him because he is doing super well in school.

However.

Now, I find that while he could stay on at his kindergarten next year, I probably should be putting him in primary school. First because the number of students in the third year of kindergarten is low, since most students go on to international school after two years of kindergarten. But more to the point because since we kept him back a year, he has missed the age cut-off for some international primary schools. I worry that if I don’t get him into a primary this year, on the off chance we need to remain in Hong Kong an extra year, it’s going to be even harder then.

So, I decided to get into the primary school application rat race. However, I had a number of criteria that restrict my choice:

  1. We are not going to pay a debenture or a huge capital levy because we’re not sure how long we’re going to be here. We would be hardpressed to cough up that amount anyway (some debentures start at over HK$1 million) but we certainly won’t do it for one or two years of schooling. When I look at these amounts I’m amazed that schools can still register as charities, and get land from the government at discounted rates.
  2. Nene’s age means some schools just won’t consider him.
  3. Schools that are too far away. I’m willing to have him travel more now that he’s older but not way across town.

So essentially I’m targeting the less popular international schools which do not charge debentures, what are known as Direct Subsidy Schools (local English medium schools subsidized by the government) and private schools run by charities (usually Christian). The latter school fees are really reasonable and I am super tempted by them on that count, though in my heart I know that an international school education would suit my child better.

Moreover, it is turning out that many of the reasonably priced English-medium schools are run by Christian organizations. Now, this should not be a problem seeing as I was raised Catholic and went to a convent school as did the husband. However, maybe because of this, I find that I would rather avoid it. I visited one school that I really liked, and then I saw the kids singing some ‘he died for our sins’ song randomly in class with the teacher to kill time. And my eyes just rolled to the back of my head. So while I think there might not be any real harm in this – after all, we had kids from various religions in our convent schools growing up – I’m also just a tad uncomfortable with it. That school was lovely though and I might have overlooked the religious aspect if it weren’t so far away.

On that school tour, I noticed kids were already writing confidently in their first week. Which means they had mastered writing at kindergarten. My son on the other hand can barely write his name. Which I wasn’t overly concerned about until then.

Then, suddenly, last week, Nene’s schoolbag came home with homework. A lined sheet with a list of words to be written on it. While the note said “to be completed over a week”, they gave it to us on a Friday and it was due back on a Monday. Since it’s been ages since I was in kindergarten, I had no idea what the four lines were for. I had to google and ask other parents who had older kids. Then, I found that Nene had no idea how to write alphabets leave alone words.

The fact is that in the previous year they did not really do much writing, and they did not formally practice lower case letters as far as I know. So it was astonishing that they were suddenly expected to write whole words. It reminded me of Marathi lessons in primary school in my day. One year it’s all fun and games and suddenly you’re supposed to be writing sentences, then paragraphs.

I found myself getting frustrated with Nene, not helped by the fact that I had no idea how to help him. I’m sure there’s a method to the madness of writing alphabets, but that’s what we pay the school for. I don’t expect to be teaching him writing from scratch because honestly, I don’t know how to, and I somehow doubt a frustrated mum yelling “top to bottom!” or “make a cup shape!” is a valued pedagogical approach.

Anyway, I think a fair number of us complained about it, so they’re going to give them writing practice sheets first. And now they’re issued simple writing patterns for Mimi’s class. So now there’s an uproar from some of the parents in that class who feel that they are too young for homework.

I’m not one of the complainers because 1) Mimi was upset that Nene got homework and she didn’t so much so that I had to go and buy her practice sheets 2) I can see that the Hong Kong school system expects the kids to be able to write at least the alphabets (and possibly whole words) by the time they start primary school (does this seem to be getting younger and younger? will we be teaching foetuses the alphabet before they’re born so that they come out primed for nursery, no wait, PRE nursery?).

Anyhoo, for now, it appears our carefree days are coming to an end. Nene will have to buckle down, and I will have to spend more hours at the photo-copier getting packages of documents together.

And if that’s not enough, if we indeed move to India we scheduled, once I’m done with the Hong Kong primary school applications, I’m going to have to start looking into schools in Bangalore. Chop chop.

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