While school is not mandatory until the age of six, the majority of children in Hong Kong begin their formal education at two, or three at the latest. To some parents, this idea seems ludicrous.
So, should Hong Kong children attend kindergarten? At two or three – or not at all?
Fortunately, in selecting a preschool, parents are not forced to choose between protecting a child’s play time and making sure they are ready for primary school. A high-quality early childhood international education programme can offer children both.
Joanna Hotung, founder and managing director at KG Group, operator of Mills International Preschool, says: “Kindergarten provides young children with a very positive start to their development and educational journey when the school philosophy works closely with parents to devise a nurturing and stimulating environment for each individual child. It should not be a onesize-fits-all situation.”
In Hong Kong, our international kindergartens offer the IBPYP programme, EYFS, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, andother curricula.
There are three areas in which young children may benefit from a pre-school experience.
According to many experts, a child should have 25-30 hours a week of exposure to the minority language. If the target language is not present in the home, this should be increased. So, for non-native English or Chinese-speaking families, parents may choose a pre-school to ensure their toddler is exposed to another language early. This is absolutely necessary when parents intend the child to continue studying the language in primary and beyond.
The general wisdom on introducing a second or even third language, is “the earlier, the better”. Speaking from personal experience, this was essential to our two children. As a non-Chinese speaking family, my two, aged eight and nine, are thriving in a bilingual primary school. I do not believe this would have been possible, were it not for early exposure to Chinese.
A second key area to ponder is learning. This involves so much more than just academics. According to Adriana Chan, supervisor of MASS International Preschool: “Many parents stress academic achievement and overlook the importance of other qualities, such as motor skills, creativity and morality, which are equally important for whole-child development.”
From the age of one, children may start to learn common social conventions such as waiting in line, washing hands before eating, taking turns and sharing. As they grow older, they come to appreciate that other people have rights and feelings, just as they do. They learn to share, communicate and negotiate with their peers and begin to recognise the importance of friendship in their lives. These skills, important in themselves, are crucial in preparing a child for primary school.
At pre-school, children are exposed to a range of music and art activities, as well as provided a basic foundation in maths and literacy skills.
Primary school entry
The third important area to consider is strategy. Many of the top primary and secondary schools have affiliated pre-schools. Getting into the school early earns the child priority in moving up. For many parents, this offers security.
Even if the parents choose a pre-school not directly affiliated, primary schools do look at a child’s previous schooling. It is a standard requirement to include two years’ reports in any application to primary school.
It is extremely unusual in Hong Kong for a child of four not to have had any previous schooling. To keep a child out of pre-school is definitely a risk when your four-year-old is effectively competing for a Year 1 spot with other children who have had up to four years’ pre-schooling experience.
Originally published in Education Post, May 15, 2015