Preparing for Preschool and Primary School Interviews
Navigate your way through Hong Kong’s education system for your little one with our tips on preparing for that interview.
The first few months of each year can be a fraught time for many parents as schools’ interview season descends upon us. It’s not just the private international schools who conduct interviews for potential students, local and international kindergartens and pre-schools carry them out as well. For many parents there is a feeling that their child’s university choice could be pre-ordained before their schooling has even begun! Parents who are new to Hong Kong are often surprised that such a thing as the pre-school interview even exists! So how can parents help their children to sail through the interview to the school of their choice and what can be done to smooth the way for parent and child alike?
The Right School
The first issue is a question of school or kindergarten choice. You may have earlier made multiple applications to ensure success, but if the interviews are all falling within the space of a few days, then you need to choose which establishments you really would be happy with. A child won’t be able to give their best in four interviews over two days! This is also a time to be realistic about your child’s abilities, especially if he/she is a non-native speaker seeking entry to the international school sector. You will probably already know which schools are interviewing for academic ability and which schools offer guaranteed through-train places to primary or secondary sections. These are all issues to consider when deciding which interviews to accept. Cast your net widely but don’t overstretch your child.
Keep Your Cool
Secondly, don’t pile the pressure, which you are surely feeling, onto your children. Given the right encouragement, which the interviewing teachers will do their utmost to provide, nearly all children try to give their best anyway. They can’t really comprehend that the interview requires peak performance, or that passing the interview means a prestigious schooling career, and so constant advice about speaking clearly or answering in sentences could have a negative effect. If your child is a younger sibling, be wary of comparisons with your older child. However, one aspect that they ought to be aware of is that it is important for them to try to be as friendly and co-operative as possible with the teachers and other children who they will meet. In a child’s world this is equates to ‘be nice’ and ‘have a go’, and at the primary or pre-primary level this will take your children far.
Raising Your Chances
Thirdly, if you do have a few weeks until the interview you may want to take some specific steps, if you haven’t already. If language proficiency is the main criteria for entry to your chosen school, enroll your child your child in an activity or class carried out in that language to boost their practice opportunities. Don’t however, aim to cram lots extra sessions into the days just prior to the interview as their effect will be limited. Interview preparation sessions and courses are run by a number of organisations and institutions. The better ones don’t drill pupils in the rote learning of answers, or written compositions for older children, because experienced interviewing teachers always see through such preparation. Instead, they introduce children to the types of activities and situations that they will encounter in the interview. This could include listening to stories and talking about them with unknown adults and children, using picture cards to map out a story, or drawing a picture of a special day. The familiarity that comes from exposure to these activities means that during the interview itself the children will be more confident, and thus more likely to demonstrate the best of their abilities, as well as their potential, to the interviewing teachers.
On The Day
Lastly, the rules that apply to adults and job interviews can be just as relevant with school interviews. Make sure that you have whatever paperwork has been requested (passport/I.D., proof of address, current school report or reference are the usual ones) and that you arrive in good time. A panicked and rushed journey could completely throw a young child, so take extra care with your arrangements!
You may both want to be there, but that could actually add a little pressure to the situation. If one of you is happy to go along alone, everything should be fine, but whatever you think will be the most comfortable for your child is the way to go. When it comes to the point when your child has to disappear to another classroom or part of the school, wish them luck, tell then you’ll see them shortly, but save your stressed look until they’ve gone!
On your way home try to find out how it went in a non-probing manner. There is no point in finding out exactly what the teacher asked and how your child replied. But, it is useful to know that they didn’t clam up, that they talked and did things with other children, and that they have had a positive experience of the school. If they did not, there may be some issues for you to consider before any other interviews.
In larger schools the interviewing process can take place over a few weeks - there may be as many as 150 places to fill. In smaller kindergartens the timeframe will be shorter. In either case schools should inform you when decisions will be made. If you are making multiple applications be sure that you know when you will be notified and how long you will have to accept the place offered to your child. Oversubscribed schools may operate waiting lists. If this is the case, try to find out about pupil turnover at the school so you can judge whether or not it will be worth your while to wait. Where organisations operate a number of schools or kindergartens there may be the option of taking a place at a location less favourable to you and possibly transferring at a later date. Be aware though, that for many children changing school more than once or twice can cause some personal upheaval which may affect their social and academic progress.
If your child does gain a place at the school of your choice, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. If they don’t, seek some feedback from the school, re-evaluate what is best for your child, and talk to other parents or professional educators about possible options. Try to keep some of your anxiousness away from your child, they will always pick up some vibes but should never think that it is their fault, and remember that places at different schools always become available as parents who accepted multiple places let the surplus ones go. It’s a little like booking a flight. Some airlines seem smarter than others, business class is better than economy, but the whole plane gets there in the end. Happy landings!
Written by Chris Jackson from Bright Sparks Language and Learning