• Fri
  • Oct 24, 2014
  • Updated: 2:47am
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

""If we perform well, we can pave the way for our son's future."""
Retarded comment of the week; hey idiot parent your son is only two years old....
It does look like some parents in HK plan their kid's academic path in life before these are even born. at that rate, in 10 years time, they will be planning their grandchildren's careers. and probably be first in line when genetic alterations will be made possible at feotus level. it will be a different world indeed, but it has already started for some poor souls, parents and kids alike.
When the plan (or dream) fails, it's everyone elses fault but their (the parents) own fault, poor kid!
The interview of child is totally unacceptable in this civilized world. A child goes to Kindergarten to start his or her social interaction learning the foundation of basic, yet these kind of approaches by the institution are going to single out or cutting out many of our future generations from learning. It scary that the Government is not prohibit such uncivilized and unfounded practices.
I feel bad for the children to have stress in this early stage. Nobody can tell which child will prevails in long run or better as he or she growing up the steps of education.
This absurdity is so inhumane and should not be allowed!
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.
I personally feel that all these playgroups are more of an exposure and interaction for the toddlers. Toddlers attending playgroups tend to be more friendly and sociable as compared to those who don't get the same exposure and interaction.
I agree with everyone here that this is ridicelous. But i also find it ridicelous to even send their kids into somthing called a playgroup. When i was a kid u either stayed home with ur parents or went to a kindergarden u did not have to go to a place where u was teached to play. As a kid to play is the most fundamentle thing u can do after eat and sleep. HK and China will have an army of mindless robots in the future if this continue. But maybe that is what parents there wish of their sons and doughters.
I agree with other comments that this is terrible. Young children learn through play not by being told to sit still and obey orders. As to whether it is the fault of parents or schools, well, I hope I would never have behaved this way as a parent, but if schools select on such a basis, it sets up pressures on everybody. The system in Britain used to be that children simply went to their local primary school, full stop, which had the added benefit that kids could walk to school (more exercise for kids, fewer cars on the road), parents and children in the local area knew each other and kids could play together outside school hours. Local authority control and inspection secured standards. Not perfect, but a pretty good system. Then came so-called parental choice, which actually means schools choosing pupils (and their parents), trying to get better test results by admitting children of more affluent parents and so on. Then schools were allowed to opt out of local control and got more money for doing so, adding to social inequalities. In turn, teachers mostly want to teach in these schools as they are supposedly the 'best', when schools are better judged on how they affect the life chances of kids from all types of background. Sorry to say, but this type of thing, and the obsession with testing (bringing spoon-feeding and teaching to the test) seems an international trend and governments are encouraging it through their policies.
We just heard of a 5-year old 'prodigy' a few days ago and now this?
Would it easier to have a chat with the Goldman Sach Asia Pacific head to ask for an internship at their Beijing Office in 20 years' time, and put in a USD$5M endowment today towards that?
I agree with all the people who commented that toddlers at that age should be left alone and be themselves. But when we become parents ourselves, I wonder if we might capitulate to peer pressure and follow the footsteps of parents like the Leungs.




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