Petra Niesner laughs remembering other parents' reactions to the news her daughter, Milena, would attend a local secondary school: 'It was, 'You're ruining her life'.' Milena, 12, is happy at YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, despite having to catch up in maths. The family plans to send sister Nadja, 10, there too. Ms Niesner first considered YMCA for fear Milena would not get an ESF place when she graduated from Lantau International School. But by the time an ESF offer arrived, her daughter was set on the local school, which teaches in English, because it was smaller and would require less commuting. Fears about excessive discipline and homework proved unfounded. 'Milena doesn't have six hours' homework. It can be done sometimes in half an hour,' Ms Niesner said. But in Primary One at a local Chinese primary school, Jonathan Chan used to get three hours' repetitive homework a day - as a six-year-old. There were 37 in his class and his mother, Gillian, who is Scottish, needed translators to read his reports. Mrs Chan transferred him to HKUGA Primary School, which has a more progressive approach. Now 10, Jonathan does about two hours' homework daily and is the family's sole Chinese reader, translating everything from menus to newspapers. Daily private tutoring had been essential to their son's ability to attend school in Chinese, Mrs Chan said, as the boy's first language was English. 'Living in Hong Kong, the world is much bigger if you can speak and read Chinese,' Mrs Chan said. Publisher Mark Cowley also wanted his Eurasian daughter to learn more Chinese. However, hopes that she could transfer to a top DSS secondary school from an ESF primary were dashed by a principal who said the girl's work was two years' behind local standards in maths, science and Putonghua. 'The only way to do it is to get your children into local schools at Primary One or before, but that is pretty scary if you are non-native speakers,' he said.