I've written before about the insanity that is the Hong Kong school system, and as we dive headfirst into it, I'm just as perplexed as I was back then. A quick recap for those not familiar with how it works here: Everybody does a playgroup of some sort from about the time a little one can sit; at two years of age they go unaccompanied to either playgroup or nursery; and then at 3 they embark on Kindergarten or reception at 4; followed swiftly by primary school one-two years later. I'm sure there are a couple of cultural elements behind the drive to have kids in school so young here. Parents work long hours in this city and preschools and kindergartens are basically the equivalent of child-care centres, but with uniforms and curriculums. There's also a strong emphasis on academic success and getting ahead, and there's a conviction that the younger a child starts learning, the more likely they'll be to do well. As a stay-at-home mum I know too well the temptation to have the kids occupied and out of your hair every day too! But very few seem to question just how much this pressure to be educated really impacts on little ones.
Most schools base their intake on a child's year of birth. This proved problematic for us as Josh was born in December and in most cases would have been one of the youngest in his class. In theory he should have started kindergarten last year, at the tender age of 2 years 9 months, which just seemed absurd to me. We fought the system, and found many schools to be unwavering in their policy on holding children back, despite the evidence (read this!) that shows that there are numerous benefits to delaying school, and the fact that many children here who should've been allowed to start later end up repeating a year of primary anyway... We were alone in our quest to delay schooling, and most people thought we were mad, it was a really frustrating time. Luckily we found a school that allowed us to keep Josh at playgroup another year, and we sent him 5 mornings a week to ensure he wasn't bored. He had a chance to play, and grow, and be a kid, and it gave us a chance to deal with his eyesight issues and for the rest of the time enjoy his company a bit.
He started K1 a few weeks ago at the same school that he's been going to for playgroup. We were ready for him to take the next step, we knew we had made the right decision in giving him another year at home, and we were excited about the year ahead. For a number of reasons this particular kindergarten didn't work out - the words "epic fail" spring to mind - and we withdrew him before the daily distress over school took its toll. We had him at home for two days and briefly toyed with the idea of homeschooling him for another year. We have applied to a primary school here that has a different intake, and he's not due to start there until next year. Not having something for him to do was not a big deal, and I was even a little bit relieved. Then I turned to the Hong Kong Schools forum on Facebook where it appears that everyone is planning and talking about school options from a very young age. Toddlers going off to school by themselves isn't just the norm, it's expected. I stopped reading the comments as I began to feel like I was being quite negligent for even considering that my son would benefit more from a year at home with me than from a fully-equipped educational institution.
Josh is a very bright and social kid who needs constant interaction and a lot of stimulation, so we decided to try one of the other schools over this way. All the kids who went on ahead of him last year are at this school, and loving it, but I was very reluctant. All the effort that went into holding him back and the careful sculpting of his circle of friends and trusted teachers would all be thrown out the window, and we'd be starting him at a new school, as one of the youngest in the class, exactly where we hadn't wanted him to be! The school were very supportive of our request for a trial day, just to see how he coped with it, which was today. It's also a much longer day than he's used to so I sat by the phone all day, expecting at any minute to be called to come and get him. What I wasn't expecting was to be greeted at 2.15 by a child positively beaming. He simply radiated happiness, and appeared completely besotted with his new teacher. He had a wonderful day, and fit in so well that one of the other children said, "we like Josh, can we keep him?" All the stress that had built up after two weeks of a little boy screaming every day because he didn't want to go to school, and the "are we doing the right thing?" anxiety of the last few days, melted away when I saw his gorgeous, smiling, utterly exhausted little face. So, he's enrolled. I collect his uniform tomorrow and he officially starts Monday, 5 days a week, 9.15-2.15. It's not what we had planned, and if I had my way he'd still be at home with me until he's 6, but we're letting Josh lead the way on this one. I have to focus on how happy he is, and right now that's the only thing stopping me from freaking out about the fact that my 3 year old is at school full-time. Because this is it for the next 14 years now... My baby boy's schooling has begun in earnest. He's more than ready, and now I need to catch up to him.