Schooling in Hong Kong is a topic that strikes fear and trepidation into the hearts of most parents. Stories abound about students not coping when they return to their own countries or else having difficulties in adjusting to a different system of education. There are also cultural differences in the role of the student vis--vis the teacher as well as questions of "face".

Enormous pressure is placed on school children in Hong Kong which I believe is somewhat different to that of other countries particularly as this pressure is placed on children as early as two or three years of age. Recent articles in local newspapers have referred to grooming schools where young children of two and three years of age are taught how to act in an interview situation in order that they might impress the selection panels and gain admission into one of the better equipped and academically focussed schools.

Generally however the education system in Hong Kong offers parents a choice of three alternatives. One can enrol their child in a local school. Such a move should be done as early as possible to minimise the stress on the child. The multilingual capabilities that the child develops are of enormous benefit although the parents would do well to continue this additional language learning when they return to their own country.

Secondly, one can enter the international school system. This stream seems quite popular for a number of reasons but in particular, because it offers an education which is fluid and can cope with different international moves. Keep in mind that many of these schools do have long waiting lists and many require a debenture of some form. This debenture can either be a corporate one (if you are lucky) or else an individual family debenture. Alternatively some schools now ask for an annual capital contribution instead.

Finally the parents can look to the English Schools Foundation (ESF) system. This system adheres to the British curriculum and tends to be a little less expensive that the international schools.

Boarding schools are also an option, either in your home country or other Asian countries such as Thailand. This is becoming an increasingly popular choice as it offers parents convenient and close access to their children.

I experimented with all of these options during my time in Hong Kong and found that, for us, local pre-schools were a good option as my children picked up an early familiarity with Asian languages that has stood them in good stead. For primary education we favoured the ESF system because of integration and some cultural aspects that suited our particular needs. We did not go down the International school route.

Keep in mind though that many of these decisions should in fact be made with the child in mind - the type of student the child is, their level of interest in academic and sporting pursuits, music and language and by their individual strengths and weaknesses. Generally, an interview with the school, a close talk with your child and a good follow-up system with the teachers should ensure that any schooling moves are positive and will make your lives an academically enriched learning experience for all concerned.

Dr Amanda O has been an expatriate most of her life and can't imagine living any other way.

Education. Just one of the things you will need to make a decision about while living overseas.
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Posted 15Sep05