Boarders head over the border
Increasing numbers of Hong Kong students are going to boarding schools on the mainland
The Chinese economy is growing at a blistering pace. The economic boom has extended to the education sector as well, with a number of new boarding schools for Hong Kong children opening in Shenzhen.
These schools offer advantages for students and parents. Many middle-class families prefer their children to board from Monday to Friday and spend weekends with them. This saves on helper costs and allows busy parents to focus on their work during the week.
The curriculum and teaching methods are also appealing.
Offering a similar learning environment as Hong Kong - small class numbers, bilingual textbooks and English oral lessons by expatriate teachers - the schools are proving increasingly popular with both mainland and Hong Kong parents.
Set up in 2001, Luohu School for Hong Kong Children has seen enrolment by Hong Kong students climb 80 per cent over the past few years.
The fact that parents are willing to give up the free nine-year education offered by the Hong Kong government and pay 14,500 RMB a year for boarding is a testament to the school's success.
'We emphasise language training. Students are taught to speak English, Putonghua and Cantonese. As for Chinese writing, both simplified and standard Chinese are included in our curriculum,' says Zheng Jiaqiu, school principal.
For parents who want a disciplined upbringing for their children, the school is the perfect solution.
'Boarders are assigned chores to do every day. They have to tidy up their cabinets, beds and wash some of their clothes. With a hostel manager supervising their activities, students also need to adhere to the 7am-9pm regimen,' says Ms Zheng.
The school advocates a down-to-earth lifestyle. 'We don't encourage material pursuits. Mobile phones and video game players are forbidden on campus. To deter them from buying unhealthy snacks from vendors near the school, we prohibit students from bringing money to school,' says Ms Zheng.
In spite of the stringent rules, students enjoy studying in Shenzhen.
Jessica Mo Ko-cheng, 12, says the school has helped her become more independent.
'I don't have to do much housework at home. Here, since I have to take care of myself, I learned to be an independent girl,' Jessica says.
With eight to 12 students sharing a room, they get to develop close relationships.
'We seldom watch TV or play on computers at the hostel, but we spend a lot of time together after school. Whether doing homework or exercise, we are always together. The companionship more than makes up for the lack of material comforts,' says 11-year-old Coco Fang Aoyan.
However, graduates from Shenzhen schools could be at a disadvantage if they want to return to Hong Kong for secondary studies.
'The use of standard Chinese characters in Hong Kong is the most daunting challenge. We teach standard Chinese characters as complementary material, but students mainly use simplified Chinese characters. By the time they graduate, they would have forgotten the standard Chinese characters they learned in Hong Kong,' says Ms Zheng.
Vicky Hui Chui-yi, 11, shares her principal's worries.
'Standard Chinese characters are complicated. I'll have to brush up my written Chinese before I resume my studies in Hong Kong.'