“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer—it’s very child-specific” —Gulnar Vaswani
to go at all. Schools work on chronological age, but there’s so much more to kids than that—there’s emotional age, mental readiness, and developmental age.
Kelly Gave (KG): I’m definitely for whatever is best for the child. Our eldest is 11 years old and is asking to go to boarding school. He is very sporty, plays rugby, and a lot of his English, Canadian and Australian friends are leaving to go to boarding schools—quite often for sports. Our two eldest sons are really maxing out here from a sporting perspective, so although we have decided not to force the issue of boarding school—we would never do that—we do see it as a very healthy option at this point. I think you have to pick the right thing for the right child.
Sooni: Do you believe Hong Kong’s schools provide adequate education for all children’s needs?
Christy: I can only speak from the perspective of a local school—if the student is set on matriculating into a Hong Kong university, then I would say yes, the education provided is exactly what a local university wants. If a locally educated student were planning to study overseas, however, I would say there is some room for improvement because our students stumble when it comes to university interviews. Our academics and IB scores are stellar, but admissions tutors want so much more than just a list of extracurriculars, supercurriculars and academics. They want to know if students can think critically when they encounter a problem they’ve never seen before. And whether or not they have the personality and passion to match.
Kelly: From an academic perspective, we’ve been very happy with HKIS; it’s on the sports side that we feel things lacking in Hong Kong. I do feel that going to boarding school instils a level of independence in kids before they are thrown in at the deep end at university. Boarding school is a bit of a halfway house between home and university; they would still be nurtured, but they don’t have someone walking around picking up after them constantly. It also makes getting into top universities easier. We were told in no uncertain terms by one university that it would be easier to get our kids in from somewhere else than Hong Kong, because quotas are small and get eaten up quickly by local Hong Kong kids with perfect IB scores.
Sue: I have to say that Lawrenceville, in the US, is a wonderful place to study. It employs the Harkness method of teaching, so every single subject is like a discussion amongst students and their peers, with minimal intervention from the teachers. There is nothing like that in Hong Kong; in local schools, the children are often too scared to even ask questions, let alone take part in lively discussions. They don’t foster that openness in Hong Kong schools.
Gulnar: My kids have been at Canadian International, Harrow Hong Kong and now HKIS—SO I can tell you that the curriculum offered at these schools, especially HKIS, is as solid as anything we saw at the New England schools. But the probability of getting your kids into a top Ivy League or UK university is probably higher if they are already at boarding school in that country.
Sooni: What are you looking for in terms of educational content and quality?
Christy: I think Hong Kong schools do a great job—a good measure of that is the IB scores, which are consistently high. Educational quality is more subjective and harder to measure. To me, it is best paralleled in this way: are you teaching my child how to derive an equation or are you just forcing him to memorise as many equations as possible? One style of teaching gives you a student who is able to think critically and understand concepts, then apply those to other problems at university and, later in life, solve problems at work. The other gives you a student who is great at regurgitation but stumbles when he or she encounters something new.
Sue: Kids who attend boarding schools often find it much easier to get into top universities abroad. My son is now in Cornell and made the transition easily from Lawrenceville through councillors, who help with the application process and customise it for students.
Kelly: I’m looking for more than just academics; that said, there are schools abroad that do offer a broader academic reach. Hong Kong and Hong Kong schools remain quite insular. The question of boarding school has already come up because in Hong Kong, sports are just so limited, even for an 11-year-old. As he is so focused on sports, he needs to be in an environment where he can experience more variety on every level.
Gulnar: In terms of its values and what HKIS stands for, it is very much aligned with our family values. And this is essential—i think there has to be a marriage between schools and families and the child’s own alignment with these.