Education stress starts very young
A photograph of a tearful little girl and a heartless caption has gone viral online, prompting criticism of a tutoring centre that it advertises. The centre coaches toddlers for kindergarten admission interviews. The caption says: "You don't like competition? But competition will find you!" That may be only too true. But given that preparing for an important interview can be stressful for seasoned professionals, let alone these little students, criticism of such tutoring for putting too much pressure on them is understandable.
The reaction is also testament to the power of the internet to mobilise sentiment, because the issue is not new. Eleven years ago this month this column commented: "The training of toddlers to prepare them for interviews at kindergartens is a matter of concern." Concern expressed then has not had much effect. Perhaps the way the poster plays on the hopes and fears of parents explains why. Indeed, competitive parents who can afford financial sacrifices, or are prepared to suffer them, may be as much to blame as the tutorial centre concerned, which charges HK$1,200 for a 12-week course of one hour a week. The same is true of schools and principals who use exam-like personal interviews to reinforce tough admission standards, and education policies responsible for a system that perpetuates elitism and inequality.
The poster in question advertises interview training classes for children as young as 18 months. A co-founder of the centre said it tried to teach children social skills and manners appreciated by many kindergarten principals. Getting into a certain kindergarten is seen as the passport to many years of top-notch education, which helps explain the demand for toddlers to be trained ahead of kindergarten interviews.
That said, there is truth in the caption that upset people, to be found in competitive local schools and in the trust in tutorial centres to give students an edge. All added up, it is not surprising many parents make sacrifices for a more rounded, high-quality education at private and international schools.