HK parent puts students in touch with greener pastures

Chris Chapel

New Zealand Connections, which helps to match Hong Kong students with New Zealand high schools, began 23 years ago with a Hong Kong mother's decision to send her twin sons to study at King's High School, in Dunedin.

The boys impressed their teachers with their attitude to school work, and this prompted the school to ask their mother, Linda Chen, to become a parents' representative in Hong Kong.

Ms Cheng has visited more than 100 Hong Kong schools to raise awareness of New Zealand as a place to study. She speaks to families that once thought mainly of the United States, Britain and Canada as study destinations for their children.

The company's manager, Olivia Wong Po-yie, says New Zealand has gained a reputation as an excellent place to study.

'Hong Kong students have been able to get visas for a long time, but in 1998 the New Zealand government became very active in promoting education when it decided to open the market for students from the mainland,' she says.

Ms Wong says most of the students her company helps to send to New Zealand schools are of Form Four level, about 15 to 16 years old, although some Hong Kong parents send children as young as 10 or 11 to boarding schools, such as St Peter's School in Cambridge, North Island.

'Most of our students go to high school, but some go to post-secondary, tertiary courses or foundation year. That is a one-year course for international students to improve their English in the first year. If they get good grades, they can enter year one of a degree course the next year.'

Ms Wong says the foundation year is a popular choice among Form Five students graduating from the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination (HKCEE.)

'They can enter the foundation year in New Zealand if they have an International English Testing System (IELTS) grade of 5.5 and D grades in four HKCEE subjects.'

Students receive intensive training in academic English in foundation year, which doubles as an introduction to the world of tertiary education. Students choose a foundation year stream suited to their choice of degree study.

'Foundation year is popular with Hong Kong students because they don't have to do the two years of Forms Six and Seven before starting their degree course. Form Five is the minimum requirement, but we do have a lot of students who finish Form Seven and do the foundation year in New Zealand.

'These days we have more and more younger students. The Hong Kong education system is going through many changes, and parents are thinking about sending their students to New Zealand a lot younger. We have some who are 10 or 11 years old.'

Private boarding schools in New Zealand have a strong record of academic achievement. Staff from New Zealand Connections visit the students at least once a year, and help young students settle into their new environment.

'Unlike some other agents, we specialise in New Zealand education,' Ms Wong says. 'The visits are important. Parents have sent their children far away and they want to be sure someone is taking care of them. We visit all schools before the parents enrol their students, to see if we would send our own children there. We check everything before we make any agreement with the school.'

New Zealand Connections also interviews each Hong Kong student and recommends them to the schools for enrolment.

New Zealand has seen Asian student enrolment rising in the main urban centres. Ms Wong says her company encourages parents to enrol their children in schools where there is not a high percentage of Hong Kong students, as a way to help them adapt completely to the local environment.

'If there are too many Asian students, they tend to form a group and not mix with local students,' she says. 'Of course, some students might prefer to study in the big city. But some are more suited to a quiet area like South Otago.'

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