The school admission process in Hong Kong is, in one word, “exhausting”! 

 

Accompanying my three kids through numerous rounds of assessments and interviews for admission to nursery, kindergarten and primary school exhausted not only them, but also my husband and me. In a primary school admission interview, the younger twin who had just started martial arts lessons was asked to show his talent. He sprang into action and put on a kung fu performance. While throwing punches he yelled out “hei” and “ha”, impressing the interviewers. In the other room, the elder twin was in no way inferior. He stood like a noble archer, poised with a make-believe bow, drawn and ready. Subsequently, both of them passed the first round and proceeded to the second, but I was not allowed to accompany them. Their ability to improvise so calmly was utterly beyond my expectations. I can imagine their performances were as funny as the hilarious scenes in Minutes to Fame or King of Comedy.

Not only were my kids assessed on their "bi-literate and tri-lingual" proficiency, but they were also asked about their pastimes, trips, family background as well as schooling. “Please tell me your father's name in Putonghua,” the teacher said. Unable to answer as instructed, the elder twin simply answered in English. Summing up my friends' parental experiences, kids have to go through a great variety of tests before they even enter primary school. Written, listening and oral tests seem to be the most basic ones. Other tests may cover reading comprehension, word/character recognition, arithmetic, drawing, LEGO and other block building, jigsaw puzzle and tangram games, bean bag toss, dancing along to music, singing, talent show, group games, questions about daily life experience like “What's a stapler for?” and even those testing EQ such as “Why are you so short?” A little child is screened based on a smile, the responses and the manner of speaking, as well as sitting posture, and signs of restlessness and emotional instability. Accompanying my kids to attend a kindergarten admission assessment, I saw some other kids crying, wetting themselves and sucking their thumbs. A number of years ago, my daughter used to kick the seat. I pressed my hand against her shank while answering the teacher, lest she make too much noise with her kicks.

When she was two and a half years of age, she attended an interview at a local kindergarten during which she kept answering the teacher's questions felicitously until the last one. “Do you like our school?” the teacher asked. “No, I don't!” she answered readily. The teacher was gobsmacked and I was really embarrassed. In response to our reactions, my innocent daughter reiterated what she said in an even stronger tone, “Teacher, I don't like this school!” With a fallen countenance, the teacher turned to me, “Ma'am, why did you bring her here, seeing as she doesn't like our school?” I could only attempt to smooth things over by saying, “It's her first time here, so everything is new to her. If she is admitted, I think she’ll grow to like this school.” Not surprisingly she was not accepted to that school, and I was teased over and over again by my friends. They said I should have moulded my daughter into a fan of that school well in advance.

Once I accompanied one of my kids to attend a primary school admission assessment. For the final round, the school arranged an interview in a special format so as to gain a better understanding of the candidates' parents. All of us, meticulously dressed and at least a few hundred years old combined, were divided into teams and asked to vie with each other to be the first to answer quick-fire questions. I was so ignorant that I was deeply impressed by such a scene! Upon hearing a question asked by the assessor, I lost no time in raising my hand and answering it, as if I were taking part in an inter-school quiz contest, just like in my childhood days!

Every time my three kids attended a school admission test, they took it easy. Whatever the result, the whole family would celebrate it for the sake of encouragement. One night, when I checked if all the kids were asleep, I heard one of them uttering a bedtime prayer, “Pray that I would be admitted by one of the schools.” My nose tingled. I came to understand that while doing our utmost throughout the exhausting assessment process, from attending briefings, filling in forms to preparing the kids' personal profiles, we should never ever overlook the kids' feelings and the pressure they might have.

(Article originally posted on Next Plus webpage on 13 July 2017)