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I have primary school applications coming out of my ears and the process has affected me more than I thought it would. Who was I kidding when I believed I’d be able to escape the stress that is seen to be inevitable to this process? V tells me that I’m talking non-stop about it.

I have now applied to nine schools. They range from the expensive international ones to a completely free government-aided school. Somewhere along the line, I fear I’ve lost the plot and applied to any candidates that seem to fit the bill willy-nilly. Surprisingly, I’ve not spent too much money, but I’m still wavering on one whose application fee itself is a bomb (according to me). Some random observations:

  1. International school fees are unconscionable. Well, the fees are one thing, but the debentures and the capital levies and the numerous names they come up with for what are essentially extortion amounts, are shocking. I’m not shocked they are run like businesses, but that they are subsidized by the government in terms of land leases at concessionary rates. The general attitude of people is – oh, if the fees for rich kids get higher, who cares? Parents should just suck it up or use the local system. The fact that the local system is deeply flawed, so much so locals are moving away from it, apart, it is a loss to the taxpayer to subsidize institutions that are pretty much fattening themselves and serving only the rich.
  2. In contrast, the government runs a system where you get into a pool based on where you live and your child is allotted a school at random. Each child gets a chance to choose one school during a discretionary placement week (which is currently ongoing). If the school offers you a place, good. If not, you go into a central pool and are allotted a place based on some algorithm. Of course, some parents move addresses just to be in the right net, but by and large, it by force removes the stress. I experienced this system when I went to apply for a discretionary place yesterday. The form requires only basic information. I did not even have to submit previous kindergarten reports. There are points allotted based on some reasonable criteria like siblings in the school or parent working at the school. Some schools are allowed to give points based on religious affiliation or membership to organisation of the school, which I think is dodgy but it’s a colonial legacy.This is how it should be honestly. Schools should work with kids, not cherry pick kids who have been drilled and grilled before they even enter.
  3. In contrast, private schools without fail ask for parents background, including office address and telephone number. Why they require this information before the child is enrolled in their school is beyond me. Well, except that they are selecting the child based on the parents’ background. This is the one place where my child looks good – okay unfortunately we’re Indian which is not favourable racially, but otherwise working in a bank and doing PhD sounds good. And yet, it sucks, doesn’t it? To be part of this elitism.
  4. On the way to submit an application, there were a number of international school students from a school on the MTR platform. A group of boys got into the train, flung their bags down, sprawled on the floor and began chatting, eating and drinking juice. Sounds harmless, but really no one does this in the MTR in Hong Kong. It is illegal to eat and drink in the MTR because they want to keep it clean, and while I have sometimes taken the occasional sip or bite, it’s always discreetly and carefully so I don’t spill. These kids were having a picnic, and something about their audacity rankled. It made me think of the cultural difference of kids in the same city – Desi (or South Asian) kids are the most racuous, Western kids can also be quite noisy and break the rules (like the ones above), and Chinese kids (especially the majority who go to local schools) are very well behaved. On the one hand, the tendency to play by the rules is admirable because it contributes to the sense of order that the city runs on; on the other, they tend to be unable to think outside the box. Surely there must be a medium which does not involve kids sprawling with a sense of entitlement on the MTR floor though?
  5. After I submitted the application, I was waiting for a bus and some kids from the local international school (another one) passed by. The group of kids looked like they were auditioning for parts in Sweet Valley High. Also, the skirts of the girls were so short. I never thought I’d see the day when skirts for the girls’ uniform is shorter than the shorts for the boys’. V told me I’m turning into a granny.
  6. Shortly after, a group of kids from a local school passed by. The girls’ skirts were too long. Okay, I am sounding like Goldilocks here but surely there must be a mean between schools where the kids turn out completely Westernized and the follow-the-book-no-matter-what Chinese system? I have to say I preferred the the way the Chinese kids interacted. Yes, I am regressing into the person who lived in mortal fear of her kids developing an American accent and generally behaving like they originated in a television serial.
  7. While the government school (if it has a school bus that comes near us) sounds ideal (because zero fees!). V pointed out that the crucial question is whether I would be able to leave Nene there. Because we semi-tried the local system with kindy and I chickened out. Fair point. But still, zero fees!
  8. I also visited a local school that is being turned into an international school. On my way to find that school, I landed up in two other schools which I know cater to local “ethnic minority” kids (i.e. us, but with less money). The reason I have not considered applying to these schools is because the kids seem to be from rougher backgrounds. I know. I sound like an idiot even saying it. And the irony was while touring the international school, I felt guilty that the local kids were losing a school.

See it’s not enough that I have to find a school. I also have to contend with my inability to even pick a school system or a budget and then on top of that I layer it with the guilt of being elitist even as I am unable to really take a stand and opt out of the international system. Bah.

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