School hunt starts early

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2012, 12:00am


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When Napoleon was asked if he preferred courageous generals or brilliant generals, he replied neither. He preferred lucky generals. It goes to show how important it is to be lucky in life. Nonetheless, I firmly believe luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, as the popular saying goes.

Finding a good international school or simply a good and respectable school in Hong Kong requires a lot of research, legwork and even social networking, all of which will hopefully help you to be prepared when opportunity knocks.

I went to an international school when I was growing up in Taiwan, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I naturally wanted the same educational experience for my only child.

The quality of international education served up in Hong Kong ranges from outstanding to somewhat unsatisfactory. My top concern was: how could I tell the difference? Choosing a good international school could be a nightmare because, besides the quality of the school, parents also have to consider the fees, location, as well as curriculum.

The harsh reality is that there are limited resources out there to help parents make the right decision about their child's education or how to choose an international school that fits their child's needs and family budget.

School hunting is definitely one of the most overwhelming and perplexing experiences for even the most informed and organised parents. Many of my friends started 'school hunting' even before their children had their first birthday parties.

As they explained, this is a chain reaction that involves the principle of cause and effect. The fact is that what you can do now will determine what you may have tomorrow. In other words, which kindergarten your child goes to will determine which primary school they will get accepted into, and ultimately their chances of being accepted by a prestigious local secondary school. All these decisions and outcomes, they believe, will have a bearing on the child's chances of entering a reputable university in the future.

The rule of thumb in evaluating a school is to go beyond the veneer. Smart parents must not simply believe in reputations, test scores or admission data. They must also assess whether the school culture suits their child's character, supports his or her personal development and character formation, and whether the curriculum is compatible with the child's possible choice of university in the future, especially the geographical location.

Planning university education when your child is just entering primary school might sound a bit excessive, but trust me - it is better to be prepared than sorry.

For my daughter's primary education, I chose a well-known local school that operates an international section. For the six years she was there she received an international education mixing Eastern and Western cultures. She enjoyed a bilingual learning environment, allowing her to appreciate different cultures, traditions and customs. That really set the tone and built the foundation for her secondary education. But I decided to enrol her in another international school to further expand her horizons.

We looked around and eventually settled on an international school on Hong Kong Island. It was the right choice because I witnessed my daughter's transformation from inside out as she gradually grew into an independent and inquisitive young adult.

Good quality international schools are a cut above many local schools in Hong Kong because of the way they deliver education. They have smaller class sizes, which means teachers can devote more time to each student and understand individuals better. Their teaching style places an emphasis on encouraging students to be independent and inquisitive. They have a diverse student body, highly qualified teachers with different professional and cultural backgrounds, and abundant resources.

In Hong Kong, there is no shortage of good quality international schools. But many of them do not actually provide an international education. Instead, they offer a national curriculum leading to foreign qualifications for entry into a national education system overseas. Many critics say they are essentially national schools in an international context. So, in choosing an international school, parents must make sure that the education and qualifications received will pave the way for their child's university education in whichever country they choose.

And finally, a good school, either local or international, must always emphasise process over product, which means it should care about fostering a joy for learning and well-roundedness, and not simply a narrow fixation on academic excellence.

Luisa Tam is a veteran journalist whose daughter is now studying at university in Britain