You often wonder what’s best for your kids. Should you chose a school closer home or follow your friends’ lead and apply to all schools they are applying to. Should you stick to the famous and well-known brands or try and venture out to the lesser known ones as well.
Please allow us to save you the trouble; the following guidelines shall help you to navigate through this maze:
Start Doing Your Homework Early - Begin comparing and looking for a school at least a year in advance before your child is due to start school. Ideal would be you gather the prospectuses of various schools in your current scope of search and glance through their offerings. Most of the schools in Hong Kong start their ‘open day’ and application process months in advance. Keep a tab on when these open days are scheduled for. You do want to give it enough time to compare and contrast different schools.
2. Be Clear about Your Priorities - Prepare a shortlist of schools based on your key expectations. You know your child and family best, so only you can decide which school might be a good fit. The following factors shall help narrow down your search:
- Language - What all languages do you want your child to pick up; would you prefer complete immersion in local culture or is international stream going to be a better fit?
- Values - Are you trying to inculcate any particular religious or cultural values in your child and would want the school to offer the same?
- Academic versus Holistic Methodology — Do you want your child to excel primarily at academics, or are extra-curricular activities equally / more important?
- Duration of your Stay in Hong Kong — Are you going to be permanently staying in Hong Kong or is it a temporary/transferable job? For instance, if your child is currently in P1 and your stay isn’t of a longer duration in Hong Kong, then there is no need to factor in whether a school has a secondary branch or not.
- Current Mix of Students - You might want to know what is the background of other students in the school. Some parents want to go down the multicultural route so that the child learns how to respect people of other cultures at the school. Some may prefer a more local ambience in schools to provide a sense of comfort and familiarity to their children. To each his own!
- Curriculum - Some parents prefer the local teaching methodology, others prefer the IB curriculum and some want American or British curriculum. There is ample information shared during school tours that will help you assess the pros and cons of each of the different streams.
3. Visit the Schools- Nothing beats an actual visit to the school. Make sure you chalk out time out of your busy schedules to go to the schools and receive a thorough tour of the facilities on offer. Here’s what you should look at when you are undertaking these tours:
Engagement Levels of Students—Look at the quality of students; do they seem happy and engaged in the classrooms and outside? Try and talk to a few to get real-time feedback about their satisfaction levels.
- Quality of Teachers—Talk to teachers to understand why they took up teaching. Do they seem passionate and motivated enough? What sort of professional development do schools provide for the teachers?
- Structure of Lesson Plans— Ask the teachers about how they structure the lesson plans, is it generic or customised based on child’s interests and talents?
- Availability of Extra Time — Check how they focus on children with complex learning needs?
- Focus Areas of School— See what is critical for the school ; are they focused on academic achievements alone or are extra-curricular and interest classes more important in their education mix.
- Values and Mission of School — Try to comprehend the school’s value system. Does the school focus on learning at the cost of not letting at the child have a balanced childhood or does it give child enough time for play and interest activities? Do not miss out on talking to other parents whose children are already part of the school you are reviewing.
- Overview of Facilities — Figure out what indoor and outdoor facilities are offered to kids.
- Cleanliness - Check if the school keeps its premises clean and pristine.
- Safety— Assess the level of preparedness in terms of safety. Check what all medical facilities does a school have. Do they medical rooms, first aid checks, regular government approved health checks and a guideline to follow in case of accidents or natural disasters?
- Ratio - Ask about the ratio of teacher to students in each class. Do they have assistant teachers if the groups are bigger?
- Involvement of Parents- Understand the school’s expectations of parents in their child’s learning path. Are parents invited to participate in key decision making?
- Cost of Education - Ascertain the school fee structure at the outset to ensure it is within your acceptable limit. Some schools also offer financial aid and that is another factor to consider before deciding on the school of your choice.
- Percentage of Graduates Accepted at Top Colleges- Get a fair understanding of how many students make it to the top colleges post school graduation. What kind of linkages does the school have to popular Universities, what other college options exist. Knowing where do most children go after graduating from the chosen school and how successful they are overall is a good guidepost.
4. Mingle with Other Parents - If all goes well on the visit, be on the look-out for parents whose children are currently studying in the chosen school, and understand from them what they think about the school, what has been their experience.
5. Location- While this starts off as an important criteria, most parents tend to de-prioritize it gradually in comparison to more critical factors. Some do eventually consider moving closer to school to limit the travel time for their kids. Others are happy with their kids using the public transport or car pools.
6. Play Smart - You need not spend a fortune and blindly apply at all possible schools. As long as you are sure of your priorities and have had thorough visits to some of your chosen schools, spoken to other parents and students, you will do a great job at the application level and will have a decent chance of being accepted. Moreover, after the offer, you will be confident about sending your child to the selected school.
The pointers above should help you get started. There may be other factors that might be rather critical in your decision making. We would love to hear from you about the process you followed to decide on a school. And if you are still in the process of researching, we wish you all the best with your school search!
It is always a good idea to seek a well-informed expert consultation. Here are some consultancies for your reference:
Or simply download our e-book "Discover the secrets to a winning school application" to see how the experts design a winning school application that will make your child stand out.