• Sat
  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 1:12pm
NewsHong Kong

Only two years old and already an interview veteran

Our third in a series of reports on the competition in Hong Kong's education system reveals the interview pressures facing two-year-olds

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 2:58am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 11:31am

Jayden is two years old and has already attended eight interviews at different kindergartens. So far he has received seven offers, but his mother's favourite preschool requires a second interview.

Maisy Leung Mei-see wants to see her son get a place at St Catherine's International Kindergarten. It received 6,500 applications for its 2014-15 pre-nursery classes beginning in September, a 62 per cent increase on last year, according to Leung. It has room for just 800 pupils.

"I'm so nervous, because my husband and I will be interviewed, too, in the second round," says Leung, who gave up her job to be a full-time mother soon after her son was born. "My husband doesn't have any experience of this."

Her husband does not go to the playgroup that she and her son joined when Jayden was 10 months old and which teaches parents and children kindergarten interview skills.

Playgroups have become so popular recently that some even require interviews themselves.

Jayden goes to Fanny's Workshop in Lai Chi Kok, where the youngest child to join was just six months old, according to the playgroup's founder Fanny Lee Li-fun, former principal of an elite kindergarten in Kowloon Tong that she declines to identify.

Lee says the playgroup, which charges parents HK$1,200 for four classes, teaches children discipline and manners as many local elite school principals like pupils who are polite and obey orders.

"When you go to international schools' affiliated playgroups, you'll see they let kids run everywhere, which wouldn't help if you wanted to enter local elite schools," she says.

It also teaches parents how to choose kindergartens; what the principals like; how to answer questions that are likely to be asked during an interview; what afterschool activities are the most helpful, and even how to match clothes - so parents and child project a family identity - when going to an interview.

Some parents, according to Lee, join five or six playgroups at a time, hoping to enhance their children's competitiveness.

Staff at newly opened EtonHouse International Pre-School in Tai Tam have already noticed this trend. During a visit to the kindergarten's playgroup, the South China Morning Post found a mother leaving with her child so they could have a break before attending another playgroup in the afternoon.

Bipasha Minocha, brand director of the Singapore-based EtonHouse group, says some parents in Hong Kong send their children to two playgroups a day - a half-day local one and a half-day international one.

But she says the different philosophies between local and international playgroups could confuse children.

EtonHouse, which is not related to the British boarding school Eton College, does not have playgroups at its Singapore or mainland kindergartens. Minocha says it opened one here because of the demand.

United States-based kindergarten group Safari Kid, which set up shop in Pok Fu Lam in January, opened classes for children aged one to two. But its preschools in America accept only children aged two and older. Director of the Pok Fu Lam branch, Jared Dubbs, says he has also found that some parents were sending their children to two playgroups a day.

Early Childhood Education Association chairwoman Rosa Chow Wai-chun said the lack of full-day childcare services in the city had contributed to this phenomenon, adding it would wear children out.

So how does interviewing a two-year-old go? During his first interview at St Catherine's, Jayden was put in a group of about eight children, who were required to take a bottle of water from the teacher and put it in a basket of a matching colour.

After that, Leung adds, the teacher gave each child a gift to see if they were polite enough to say thank you. The children then played while teachers watched to see if anyone cried, got angry or violent, or grabbed others' toys.

"The second round will be more difficult," says Leung. "I'm so afraid. The pressure is huge. If we perform well, we can pave the way for our son's future."



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This article is now closed to comments

"When you go to international schools' affiliated playgroups, you'll see they let kids run everywhere, which wouldn't help if you wanted to enter local elite schools," she says.
Well, thank goodness that there are some todldlers who can be toddlers, running around shouting having fun.
These young kids who want to attend "elite" schools have their creativity and imagination crushed at an early age, and then when they are at elite schools and grow older, then the parents suddenly realize that their little darling is an EMPTY SHELL with no personality, no imagination, no creativity. Then these parents try to solve the problem by forcing these kids to do art,music etc.
I laugh at the comment " Lee says the playgroup, which charges parents HK$1,200 for four classes, teaches children discipline and manners as many local elite school principals like pupils who are polite and obey orders." Don't these parents teach the children discipline and manners ?
I don't blame the parents because a lot of them just jump on the bandwagon and do what everyone is doing. Playgroup is fun if it is to meet other kids, learn some social skills, but not if it is to force a 2 year old to behave like a 10 year old.
As for Ms. **** and her elite teaching, I would suggest a pair of socks.
The parents who engage in this ludicrous behaviour don't need child are - they have at least 1 domestic helper at home so the issue of childcare is a complete red herring. These people are so ignorant of the needs of their children. At 2 years of age toddlers need to play, learn how to socialise and sleep. Ex principals of 'elite kindergartens' are setting up to ride the gravy train so that our so called elite schools will be crammed with future robotic kids who have had all their spontaneity taken away from them since they were toddlers. Thanks for the series of articles on our broken education system. The phrase 'only in HK' comes to mind!
It's really Chinese to be competitive just for the sake of face. Just like the ridiculous milk powder shenanigans, Chinese mums (Hong Kong mums included) just want a particular “hot” brand or particular school. They want “the best”, the most envied school and gloat with pride once their child gets in. On the dinner table, they complain about how high the school fees are yet they are indirectly stating their child’s “higher” status.
Pure nonsense!
perhaps interviews should start in the delivery room? baby pops out and maybe some interviews can start immediately. forget parenting. lets just do tests and school from birth. I mean, if you do anything less than you won't get the 'best' from your offspring. we could create an army of zombies who rote-learn their way to college and then afterwards join the real world and find out that there's actually a bit more to work and life than the ability to take an exam well.
8 "interviews" for a 2 year old? *sigh* In Finland they don't even start formal education untill 7. Homework & testing starts as a teenager.... no prizes for guessing who scores top in international tests of Maths, science and reading....
HK government should have the courage to control this dangerous harm to the children. I wonder if there can even be a lawsuit.
This is ridiculous. Children should be given the freedom and space to explore and learn on their own, not be crammed in groups to learn how to be "perfect" in an interview!
Can't parents see how such competition could only be detrimental to their children's development?
Hong Kong leading bureaucrats and business elites tend to send their kids overseas for education. So, they don't care that much about conditions for local kids.
Young children should go to playgroups to play with other children their age and learn social skills. However, I think that it is quite sufficient for the child to attend just one playgroup maybe two to three times a week. Attending two play groups in one day is too exhausting for the child. Children need to sleep, go to the park for unstructured play, read with parents, draw, play at home, rest or even watch some quality television etc to unwind after their playgroup session. I think that these over scheduled children will soon become burnt out and depressed. They may to their monster parent's delight get admitted to top schools but at the expense of their happiness, precious childhood and creativity. A happy childhood should be spent playing with parents or friends, reading great books or exploring nature not preparing for or attending endless school interviews. The child will get his or her chance to attend plenty of interviews after they graduate from university. Right now let them be kids.
The government policy needs to be blamed first. Current system allows primary school and secondary school to conduct interviews for students in the admission and keen competition for very limited seats for top schools are driving parents and their kids crazy. In the past, students only needed to perform well in public examination and t hey were given a fair chance to admit to their favourite school simply based on meritocracy. Now we are looking for students with multi-talent - good academic result, extracurricular achievement and good interview skills. We should not blame the parents but simply the system ( the government and the school) is forcing those parents to behave as such. HK had an overhaul in our education system by the "stupid" Tung who wanted to groom up HK youth to be smart and learn happily rather than "high score idiot". However, the students (esp primary school) are working much harder than before but there was no evidence to show they perform better than the past batches in the old system. It is common to have a primary student to finish the homework by late 10 - 11 pm. There must be something terribly wrong in our system.



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