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Old 07-26-2014, 07:50 PM - Thread Starter
 
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how important is the school?

My daughter and I currently live in a big city outside the US, so I'll give some background first before getting to my question.

The general environment for students here is very competitive. It's common for people to have their 3 year old groomed and trained for kindergarten interviews because of the competition. This scenario happens again prior to primary school (grade 1) and secondary school (grade 7).

Besides this, there are schools with different mediums of instruction-- English, Mandarin, and another Chinese dialect; and local and international schools. Local schools are more traditional with a lot of homework and rote memorization. Int'l schools tend to allow more creativity, with the ultimate aim of entering university abroad.

Besides this, there are hardly any outdoor areas or nature in the city, and most kids are enrolled in all sorts of activities or after school tutoring. There's no such thing as just going outside to play since everyone live in tall buildings.

If we stayed in the city, I would have aimed for my dd to attend the only Montessori school here.

I recently visited a small island about 25 minutes by boat away. Very laid back, lots of nature, and small-knit community. No cars, so the air is clean. There's only 3 schools on the island-- 1 waldorf kindy, 1 local kindy, and 1 local public primary school. The primary mode of instruction in the Waldorf kindy is English, and the latter two the local chinese dialect. There's a good number of expats living on this island so the schools do have non-local kids attending.

I really like the general feel of this island away from the city and am seriously considering moving there next year. In this case I would send my kids to the schools on-island instead of commuting by ferry then bus every day.

This school issue is the main thing that is keeping me from moving. Also that my dd probably won't be able to learn Mandarin as well there as she would in a strong Mandarin school that are only found in the city. How much does attending an elite school and having lots of after school activities really matter?

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Old 07-27-2014, 09:16 AM
 
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How much does it matter for what?

When it comes time for your daughter to apply for high school and university, her expat experience will make her an unusual candidate no matter what the specifics of her schooling are. It is my opinion that elementary age children are better off with less structured experiences, I.e., more nature to play in rather than structured extracurricular activities. Kids who are in a ton of formal activities often seem burnt out to me by the time they hit college - I think heavy involvement in formal extracurricular activities can be counterproductive at the elementary level.

I can't really get excited about elite elementary schools either. I'm admittedly in the US, but my research was that local super-expensive elite private schools teach the exact same elementary curriculum as the (reviled) public schools. They get different results because they are working only with the easy kids. Should your child develop a special need, they'll stop working with your family.
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Old 07-27-2014, 09:20 AM
 
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Define what "really matters" to you and for your daughter. It might mean that by having certain goals and by living in this particular area, "really matters" does mean elite schools, "proper" Mandarin, etc.

I'm a homeschooler crashing to bump this thread, so my choice would be the one that is less stressful for the child and more expansive. That's what would "really matter" to me. I would take the island schools.

But what matters to you might be different.

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Old 07-27-2014, 01:30 PM
 
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Where would your children go after primary school? Somewhere off the island? Would the island schools provide a good transition and background for this, or would their options be limited?

I would worry about kids jumping back into a different school system around middle school. Extra-curriculars (at least in the states) can become very competative prior to middle school. It may be hard for them to jump into a sport/musical instrument if their peers all have 5-6 years of specialized training. I have very competative kiddos, and they would be extremely unhappy with this kind of a situation.

This may be ok with your kids. Are they easy-going? What other resources are there on the island? Would there be opportunities for Mandarin turoring or sports as they get a little older?


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Old 07-28-2014, 05:54 AM - Thread Starter
 
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meepycat, sweetsilver-- I've been thinking a lot about what matters. There is huge pressure to equip kids with skills so they can be competitive later. Mandarin has gotten important due to large influx of mainland Chinese tourists/businesses in the past decade. Nowadays if you can't speak Mandarin here, you are at an extreme disadvantage in the job market. Most parents see studying in elite schools as a way of giving their kids an edge in higher education institutions, especially college. I don't believe equipping kids in this manner is the way to go, but I cannot explain it well because the wealth gap here is so wide and many people don't get the opportunity to go to college.

I have friends who self-taught Mandarin and English in their teens or twenties because they needed to be proficient in study or work, and can communicate in those languages well. So maybe it's not necessary to be in Mandarin immersion at such a young age if the lifestyle can give more freedom and less stress.


KSLaura--all the kids on this island attend school in the city. The commute is would be at least an hour-- walking to the pier, 25-minute boat ride, then bus to school. Kids are guaranteed seats in local public secondary schools. However, private schools are greatly preferred if families can afford them. Many kids transition easily from a local school to an international/English-medium school (opposite is difficult); the issue is whether or not they are able to gain admission.

There will definitely a lot more opportunities in the city for extracurricular activities. Many kids get quite good at some instrument or dance before middle school. On the island, it varies depending on who lives/moves there. There's way more opportunities for outdoor activities. Kids get exposure to nature. My daughter is only 3, and generally don't care for lessons of any kind. If she should show interest in a particular activity, it would not be difficult to arrange lessons in the city a couple times a week if it came to that. My whole family lives in the city, so we would probably be visiting weekly anyway.

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Old 07-28-2014, 09:39 AM
 
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It sounds like you are leaning towards the island schools, but are weighed down with doubt. What if you made this decision and you ruined your child's opportunities? What if she doesn't become competitive enough and she "fails" and have to struggle?

I still think that the island schools and island living can offer what you want. You seem aware of the benefits, you just need to get over the doubt you are having about not choosing otherwise.

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Old 07-30-2014, 04:03 AM
 
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If moving for the island works for you professionally/healthwise (depending on transport to the nearest maternity hospital, I might wait until after delivery of #2 ), I would move there in a heartbeat. No elite preschool or primary school and no extracurricular option can beat the developmental advantages the exposure to nature and clean air will give to your children. Secondary, possibly upper primary, is a different matter, but they would have to commute to the mainland anyway (and I suppose you could always move back). Also, as you say yourself, organizing extracurriculars a couple times a week on the mainland (say, dance at 5, an instrument at 6) is feasible. the low stress environment might make it even easier for them to devote mroe time to practicing, for instance.
Imagine being stuck in a highrise all day with a new baby - shudder!

There are two factors I might consider: Will you presumably be staying in the city/country until your children go on to post-secondary education? because it depends on this really how important their proficiency in Mandarin and their shot at a good secondary would be. From what I know of international schools whre I live, admissions requirements tend to be less stringent for expat kids who are fluent in English and really need to be in the system for family reasons (ie a move back into their home country or into another country is anticipated), but this might be different whre you live. You do not mention whether international school would be cost prohibitive. But you could probably save a lot by moving to the island and sending your kid to school there for primary.

Waldorf school would not work my family, but again, mileage may vary, and for preschool it probably does not matter. Depending how important fluency in Mandarin will be (again, comes down to whether you anticipate staying in the city for good, for yourself and your daughter, for whom any English speaking university/jobmarket in the world presumably would be an option) you might want to arrange for tutoring in Mandarin, or a tandem with a local Mandarin-speaking family who would like top expose their kids to native English speakers. I may not be correct in this, but written Chinese would be the same whether its Mandarin or Cantonese, right? So with the local school, she'd get at least that. I have also read that learning Mandarin orally is not actually that hard, that it is having to learn the characters that throws native speakers of a Western language that uses the Latin alphabet. I'd love to learn more about this, if you care to elaborate!

And lastly, I cannot imagine that the local schools can be completely untouched by the competitive environment in the city they will eventually send their students to for secondary schools. they must have some track record of placing international students if they have a sizable international community.

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Old 07-30-2014, 06:15 AM
 
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Old 07-30-2014, 06:36 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Tigerle, thank you for your reply. If we do move, I would plan for after the delivery, hopefully next summer before the start of the school year.

Re the Mandarin issue, how proficient a student is at a young age doesn't confer advantage in secondary or international school admissions here. It's just the perception that young people these days MUST know Mandarin to survive in the job market. Yet, what you point out is correct-- written Chinese is the same in both Mandarin and Cantonese, so children in Cantonese-medium local schools will learn Chinese at a high level. They just may need practice speaking Mandarin. Cantonese is harder to pick up than Mandarin-- those who learn Cantonese early in life can usually speak Mandarin quite well later, but Mandarin speakers who learn Cantonese later in life have heavy accents.

International schools here are very competitive, and quite a lot of parents send their kids to boarding school or move abroad for their kids' secondary education if nothing is available. Local secondary school places are guaranteed due to the free education scheme by the government (until age 15), but some schools just exist to fulfill this requirement and aren't good. I am not opposed to these options for post-secondary education abroad when the time comes as I don't see any advantage in staying here. Right now we are here for family reasons.

Most international schools do have seat allowances for expats, but we are not expats as my daughter was born here.

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Old 07-30-2014, 06:38 AM - Thread Starter
 
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It sounds like you are leaning towards the island schools, but are weighed down with doubt. What if you made this decision and you ruined your child's opportunities? What if she doesn't become competitive enough and she "fails" and have to struggle?

I still think that the island schools and island living can offer what you want. You seem aware of the benefits, you just need to get over the doubt you are having about not choosing otherwise.

Yes, I do have these doubts!!! I don't know anyone IRL who thinks like I do, even though I feel sure the island lifestyle would be better in the long run. It's hard to make a move when most people in my support system is against it.

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Old 08-01-2014, 05:09 AM
 
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So, you have almost a year to plan your move or decide against it, as the case may be.

In the city, I'd research which international schools you'd be interested in and would be within your budget and speak to the admissions officers about how exactly they'd view your daughter - is place of birth really the only consideration they'd take into account with a kid that grows up with an English speaking parent and will at some point presumably move back to a primarily English speaking country? And then, I'd visit all three schools on the island, ask to speak to whoever might be able to help you most about the issue of school placement for your daughter, ask about Mandarin classes - maybe they have them as a regular offering? -, ask whether you can speak to other expat parents living on the island, preferably those with older kids who already commute to secondary school, to find out about their experiences. It is true that merely the guarantee of a place in any local secondary is probably not going to help your daughter much as it is probably not the best option for her - again for all intents and purposes she IS an expat, though not legally one.

Maybe there is a guest house on the island and you could make a vacation of it, get a better feel for the place and find out whether you just don't want to leave at the end of a week or suddenly feel stifled or anxious by the limitations of the place.

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Old 08-02-2014, 08:26 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Tigerle, thank you for those suggestions. My research so far has not gone beyond the primary school level. I am generally not impressed with the schools/students here, so have always thought we would be in another country by then. The competition makes students do everything for grades/transcripts/resume. I was there myself years ago.

Re the two kindergartens on the island, Waldorf would have more emphasis on play and local kindergartens focus on academics. Kids are taught to read and write Chinese, homework is expected, all in preparation for academic work in a local primary school. Kids who do not attend local kindergartens have trouble adjusting to local primary schools because of this.

Yet, I don't believe in focusing on academics in kindergarten. Attending a local primary school without preparation almost means the child would need a lot of extra help and tutoring to catch up because the Chinese level wouldn't be up to par, risking poor grades in primary school and affecting secondary school admissions. I can now understand why parents here would prefer their children attend an academically strong kindergarten.

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Old 08-08-2014, 11:46 PM
 
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I suppose some trade off in assimilation to local customs will be required...the local kindy on the island might be a good compromise. For a few hours of intense developmentally inappropriate work in kindy she gets to grow up in nature on the island and play to her hearts content on afternoons and weekends, and so does the baby. And you never know - my kids would have LOVED intense work on writing Chinese at that ages, provided they could have decompressed with water and sand play on the beach for the rest of the afternoon.
You are worrying already about the job market for your 3 years old. I admit to worrying as far as high school graduation and university entry for my kids, but consider myself to be a rather a worry nut for that one...really, anything beyond secondary school entry (I do think you have legitimate reasons to keep that one in mind when making decisions) is so much up to your kids...
As long as your staying in this city, offering your kids the nature on this island (if you want to pm me the name, I'd love to google it, I'm getting real interested, being a bit of a geography nut, too) would surely be making the most of where you live. The next place you move to, while English speaking and having schooling options you like better, might have MUCH colder weather!

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Old 08-11-2014, 08:54 PM
 
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School is really important. I think its important to be around people your own age for social development and it's good to get a grounding of the types of people you're going to meet in your life.

I create well researched content for Inspire Education and also a regular contributor to other education and self improvement related blogs.
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Old 08-16-2014, 10:23 AM
 
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School is really important. I think its important to be around people your own age for social development and it's good to get a grounding of the types of people you're going to meet in your life.
She's not questioning school in general, she's wondering how important is this school in the city compared with these other 2 schools outside the city, where she has more what she wants in her daily life but the schools might or might not provide the right education for the next step.

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Old 08-19-2014, 01:03 AM
 
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After reading your description about both the schools I feel like going to the island one, because it is much calmer and peaceful. The school I went to was on a hilltop. It had a very lovely atmosphere as it was away from the crowd and noise and always had a nice breezy climate.
But if you think practically, there are many other factors to consider. One of them is about the higher education of your daughter. Your DD shouldn't find it difficult to get admission for higher classes due to this school. My advice will be inquire about this to the students studying in that school and also to the pass-outs of the school. They advice is really important in this matter.
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