My kid's ready for Grade 1, but where are the schools?

Updated: 2011-06-07 08:12

By Debbie Mason (China Daily)

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There's always a "current topic" on the lips of parents and grandparents picking up children from the kindergarten gates.

Often it's the weather, and it's amazing how quickly we can forget complaining about the cold and start moaning about the heat.

But for families of the "da ban" children, the oldest, and final, class of kindergarten, there has only been one question on everyone's lips since Spring Festival.

"Baoming le meiyou?" (Have you registered yet?)

My kid's ready for Grade 1, but where are the schools?

The question over where the little darlings will go for "real school", ie, Grade 1, in September has really gathered momentum.

And in a country where the hukou (residence permit) determines which school your child can attend free of charge, I have been astonished by the uncertainty and doubt over this question.

Chinese parents do not have to stick to the school determined by their hukou if they have the cash to spend on better alternatives.

The question for me, as a non-Chinese (and single) mother, is where on earth I can place my little boy?

With nil support from my child's father, I can't afford the international school fees of 160,000 yuan plus (about $25,000) a year. Even if I could, I wouldn't choose this route, partly because they are all located seemingly in Hebei province and partly because it seems few of them teach Chinese.

The famous Fangcaodi, the first Chinese school to officially accept foreign students, is just too far for us. And none of his current classmates will be going there, anyway. Call me soft, but I would like my little boy to have at least one familiar face in his first year.

Recent changes in Beijing's regulations mean that hours are shorter at Chinese schools, and on questioning the parents outside one of our local schools, I've discovered the homework issue doesn't seem as bad as we are all led to believe.

But in any case, despite the other regulation, which states all Chinese schools can accept non-Chinese students, it seems I will have a fight on my hands to get him into one of them.

In January, I was told to ask the local schools about applying for a place after Spring Festival. After Spring Festival, I was told to come back after Qingming Festival. After Qingming Festival, it was after May holiday. And after May holiday, it was the end of May.

Two of them still remain tight-lipped, refusing to even divulge whether they will accept non-Chinese children.

One decided to open registration three weeks early, and luckily I managed to get an interview with the headmistress. If only the buck stopped with her. She has to refer my case to the next level (whatever that is), and thus requires a written letter of application (which I have recently provided).

If the answer is yes, the next question will be the tuition fees.

It is extremely unlikely that I will be here for my son's entire primary school education, yet the rules for these schools is that the six-year fee is all paid upfront.

It's not an unreasonable amount if you split it up, year by year, but I simply do not have it.

And I am told by Chinese whisper that even if I did, I would not be reimbursed if we left, which we will undoubtedly do.

The information about tuition fees has not been given to me by the actual schools, because they will not say, and in any case, I dare not ask. It's all been handed down by the same parents and grandparents at the gates of the kindergarten.

And time's ticking by. School is out for my little boy in six weeks and then it's a whole load of uncertainty.

The stress and worry of what to do is taking its toll, though thankfully not on the little charge in question.

But if I don't get a resolution soon, we may just have to pack our bags.

China Daily

My kid's ready for Grade 1, but where are the schools?


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