Ill Prepared for Chinese School

We are ill prepared for Chinese School. With our indecisiveness, we had not prepared our girl to feel at ease in a Chinese School.

In her school, I would say around 70% of the children are from English speaking homes. However, most of the children can speak Mandarin. This is because the parents have prepared the kids well by sending the kids to at least 2-3 years of Chinese preschool. Meaning the kids attended a Chinese kindergarden where the main medium of instruction is Chinese. Even the little Indian boy in my girl’s class speaks Mandarin fluently by now at Standard One.

There are 2 special Std One classes in her school. In each of these classes, the number of students is lesser ie around 35 and 10% of them are muslims and non-chinese. This is to make sure that these students have a better chance of catching up, plus it makes it easier for them to attend Agama classes etc. I would have preferred my girl to be in one of these classes but…

Altogether there are 7 Std One Classes with about 40 students to a class with the exception of the 2 special classes I mentioned. I guess this is not too crowded a figure. Some Chinese schools have bigger numbers than these, more classes and with about 50 to a class I heard.

The environment in a Chinese school is really competitive. During orientation, we are handed a list of curriculum activities which the kids can attend after school (for a fee of course). After school activities (1.30-3.10/3.40pm) which start next week, are compulsory for kids from Standard 3 onwards. The younger ones have a choice. They can join Arts & Crafts, Badminton, Taekwando, Drama, Hanyu Pinyin classes, etc etc. Its a long list.  It makes it easier for the parents, I guess. Kids can stay back, have lunch, then join in a class, and you pick them up later. So you don’t have to ferry your kids from one place to another for activities.

It seems almost tempting to join some activities for various reasons….eg: for extra Chinese classes because I am afraid she is so lost, so that she can make more friends from school from doing shared activities because she says she has no friends, or simply because she likes some of those activities.

I have to remind myself to allow her to slowly settle in first and those other extras can wait although I am not sure whether they are allowed to join midterm. So I did not fill up any of those forms for extra activities. Parents have started to arrange tuition because, some of them, like me, found that they are ill prepared and the child is very lost. Some of them have even approached the class teacher to form a group for extra tuition for their kids. Its that competitive! Scary.

No matter how unkiausu you are, you’re going to be caught up and get lost in the whirlpool of competitiveness. First, you might have to send  your kid for extra Mandarin tuition to make sure she can follow the classes, then you may send him or her for some Arts and Drama classes etc to foster creativity to counter the rote learning methods so that they learn to think out of the box, then you may send them for English classes to make sure their standard of English do not drop etc. This is what I’ve heard. I haven’t experienced all this yet but I think I have one foot in now by trying to find ways to make sure my girl can follow whats going on in class because I cannot help her. And thats another sad thing because I so want to be able to help and guide her personally.

I realise that my mistake is not preparing my girl enough in conversational chinese. She may be able to read and write but she cannot speak or understand spoken Mandarin. She cannot make friends and she cannot understand what the teachers are saying and that makes her miserable. Even the Malay and English teachers give instructions in Mandarin so she is totally lost. We have asked her kindy teacher to come 2-3 times a week to help her out, sort of like giving her an intensive or crash course in spoken Mandarin for one or two months.

I have always maintained that I hate giving my kid extra tuition but only after the first week of school, I have resorted to this! Its madness. I am still full of reservations about sending my kid to Chinese school but lets wait and see. I will keep on updating our progress.

Although I have said that we did not prepare my girl enough by not sending her to a Chinese environment preschool, this is still something I do not want to do. I have sent my boy to a normal English speaking preschool. This is because I want them to be good in English first before Chinese. I want them to learn to think in English and want them to learn Chinese as a second language. I prefer it if they learn Chinese as a language rather than as the main medium of instruction but it would seem I have no choice. I feel that my girl’s English is quite ok for her age and so now she can start learning her Mandarin. If it were the other way, had I sent her to a Chinese medium preschool, then she would probably be poorer in English. You can’t have everything. The kids have to learn English, Chinese AND Malay. I feel that you have to choose which language you want your child to excel in or you’d be in a situation where they are the jack of trades and the master of none. They’d know every language but they would not be very good in any of them.

Shoppingmum, is this post cheong hei enough for you? I have more. Hahaha.

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14 thoughts on “Ill Prepared for Chinese School

  1. Well, I can safely say taht I disagree with you, I will NEVER send my child to a Chinese school, especially primary. This is from a guy who went to one himself!!! And I put my foot down even though my wife prefers it.

    Why? 3 points.

    1) Chinese school stifle creativity. They learn by “rote learning”. Memorizing and repeating all that they have learned. Although this is a fantastic way for a few subjects (maths esp) and is a great way to pass exams, it does not actually contribute to “learning” in a holistic. All it does is encourage a child to memorize, regurgitate in exams and then forget it once he/she passes Form5.

    2) Chinese school has WAAAY too many activities. For Primary school!!! My kids are still young in primary school. They deserve to run around, play football, climb rambutan trees like I did when I was young!
    They deserve much better than to be stuck inside some classroom on a nice day reciting mandarin poetry or doing handiwork, then later going home at night to do a TON of homework (mostly copying passages, or maths and other stuffs). After all they will get the “delights” of studying during secondary school……don’t they have a chance to enjoy their childhood?

    3) Chinese school discipline is TOO strict! Sure, they are kids, they need a firm hand, but chinese school discipline is so bad as to stifle openmindedness and creativity. I remember a few “terrors” teacher I had during chinese school days – who will ask you to stand up and recite times table or some chinese proverbs, then whack you if you get it wrong.

    End result? Of course we all learnt it by heart, BUT we also were scared to stand up and speak unless we are 110% sure it was absolutely right. Thats not something good – students should dare to stand up and speak, even if its a stupid question or maybe wrong. After all what is learning without it?

    I have to say, when it comes to Education, us men know better. 😛

    Blur dad. The sad thing is I agree totally with you on all your points and the only reason we are sending my girl to Chinese school is for lack of a better choice. I don’t agree with the Chinese school system of doing things, far from it in fact. We feel really torn. Sigh. We are there only because we want her to learn some Chinese and the facilities are way better.

    Another thing, this is not my decision but it is a joint decision and we question ourselves on whether we are doing the right thing in just about every hour or so. 😛

  2. I would say the situation much lies on individual kids and yes, the preschool does help a little to prepare them for year 1. For my situation, we speak Mandarin and English at home. That way, my kids have no problem when coming to communication. Her reading picks up the 2nd week of lesson. I was surprised by that. if you speak zero mandarin to her at home, i can say it is going to be very tough. Just like my daughter’s bahasa. Totally down the drain. Sometimes it is good to have a Kakak at home so that she can learn some basic bahasa from Kakak. Her basic is…. so basic. haha.

    We have a kakak at home so the kids have picked up BM rather quickly. For languages, practise makes perfect.

  3. Don’t worry too much. It’s only the first week of school. She has many many more weeks to learn the ropes. Just guide her where you can – to be a good person with right values. Kiasuism is not a value which she should be immersed in right now. Afterall, she is only 7 years old. I think she would need more reassurance and confidence from you than expectations of her competitiveness. Shower her with love, patience and guidance and I am sure she will be able to fit in well into school in no time.


    Will try to do as you suggest the shower her with love, patience and guidance part. However part of the problem lies in the fact that my husband and I do not believe in the Chinese school system, I guess.

  4. I got to admit, I have the same concern as you – that they may be a jack of all trades and a master at none.

    But I think it you are an english speaking home, then whatever maybe, you can build up her english at home and she will be equally good at it.

    I want to say, don’t be anxious….but I can understand that your anxiousness will also take time to quell down once yo usee things actually settling.

    And it will settle in time. Take care.

    Yes, hopefully we’ll be more settled next week. My girl happens to have a class teacher that looks unapproachable, impatient and fierce. Hopefully looks are deceptive and she won’t live up to her looks. Haha.

  5. Ya ya, I like this cheong hei post. LOL!
    I have something to say regarding learning Chinese. I came from an English speaking family, and only started learning Chinese probably at 6 or 7, but then, I survived 12 years of Chinese school, and I’m glad that I know Chinese now. I might not be the brilliant student who did well in Chinese papers, but I can read and write Chinese, on average standard and that’s enough to me.
    Regarding learning another language, don’t worry about it as kids learn faster than we think, as long as we don’t put too high expectation. My kids are learning Thai for 6 months and I’m amazed at their progress. None of us speak Thai, you see? 🙂

    Eh, you never learn Thai also ah? I think your kids learn faster than you hor? Haha.

  6. I was worrying about my boys picking up bahasa! but they seem to be managing ok.. but they learn mandarin privately once a week, and we do talk bahasa to them so we can practice. Admittedly this is govt school so less kiasuism! 😀 Kids should be kids.

    I think whatever school system will work best with a good, loving, supportive family environment (which you already have). It’s all about balance! (Boy, don’t I sound like Oprah here lol). We will trip, sometimes fall and stumble along but half the battle is won as we love and support our kids (even though they drive us nuts at times haha).

    It’s prob just bewilderment (is that a word?) right now, give it a little while. Immersion is supposed to help 🙂 Heck, I learnt to speak bahasa despite not speaking it at home at first. 😀

    Hello Oprah (hehe), do I sound very gancheong to you? Well, lets see if that gancheongness goes away after a month or increases shall we? lol.

  7. Been waiting for your updates!!

    My girl school so far ok. No lesson for the first week yet, don’t even have a single book, in fact she’s a little bored (What till the homeworks come!!) and they have not given list of activities yet, though I prefer they have so I don’t have to drive her around for taekwando or art (which she requested)

    Not intending to sent her for any tuition, I have promised her that. The students in her school also 70% speak English, they are still conversing in English as I was told by my girl. So no problem for her making friends. She can speak little Mandarin in an English grammar way. 😀 , that’s one area she has to improve.

    For me, Chinese school or not, the most important is the role we parents play, how we strike the balance, how we counter the rote learning process at home, how we encourage and help them to think out of the box. I believe if we involve ourself enough, this can be achieved.

    I read all your posts too. Only too busy to comment. Hehe. I will update on the first week of school on my Parenting Times blog next week. Theres no homework yet as well. We’ve been told that homework will be minimal for the first 3 weeks. We haven’t got any time table or books yet as well. They’ve been singing, coloring, doing origami etc. Yah. Just wait till the homework comes.

  8. Aiyo, this is all too scary.

    I have loads of reservations of the Chinese school and we have no intention of sending our kids there – it has a lot to do with their character and personality also, and not just the zero Chinese language at home.

    Anyway, all the best to ou and your girl.

    Hope she will adjust and enjoy school in spite of it all, and that you can sleep well at night.

    We give ourselves until the first term to see how things goes. If the girl remains miserable then we’ll just have to do something about it.

  9. Mg,
    don’t you think your girl (maybe) need an extra afternoon Mandarin class/course. It could help her I think.

    Aha! Henny, you didn’t read my other post properly. Hehe. I wrote that her kindy teacher is coming in to help her through the transition by conversing to her in Mandarin. We’re not sending her to the school Mandaring courses because the hours in school are long enough without having to stay back.

  10. yeah, a lot of children know how to read and write chinese but can’t understand it. I heard that too, that’s why I was told to send my kids to Chinese medium preschool and try to expose them as much as I can to Chinese program.

    Don’t worry too much, I believe your girl can catch up soon, remember that kids can adapt very fast.

    Yes, I am confident that she will pick up the language in no time. She can speak quite fluent malay now practising with kakak daily. What I am worried about is her fear of school. She is so afraid of the teachers and afraid of making mistakes and being punished. It is preventing her from enjoying school. I wonder why it has to be this way. Why can’t the environment be such that school and learning be made fun instead of instilling fear and dread in the children.

  11. I know this is a very late comment to your post but I read with interest on the many different views with regards to chinese school education. I’ve also decided to send my son to a chinese school. He’ll be turning 5 next year and since we don’t speak mandarin at home, I want to prepare him. From the experience of the many mommies(and daddies) out there, what do you think is more important – learning to recognise/read mandarin or learning how to listen/speak? He used to go to Bao Bei and was picking up reading quite well, but I’m not sure if they actually learn how to converse in Mandarin. What’s the best way to prepare him for chinese school without going to a chinese preschool?

    I read on your blog about your review on Bao Bei and Mandarin Lighthouse. Looks like you have already set the groundwork for your kids to study in Chinese school, much better than me so I can’t comment. I’m afraid I didn’t do any preparation like that. I sent my girl to kindy only at age 6 where they have an hour of Chinese daily as part of lessons. Both my husband and I don’t read or write Chinese, so for a while we got her kindy teacher to come to the house to speak to her. That was our “tuition” for the girl so that she gets familiar before going to school. As for my boy, I didn’t learn from my mistake and did no preparation for him. He is still struggling with his Chinese now at Std 2. His sister is now in Std 4 and she is doing well mainly from her own efforts, no tuition for either one of them.

    Another thing, some of my children’s non-chinese classmates, do much more in preparation, sending their kids for 2-3 years to a Chinese kindy. By the time they enter std 1, they can converse fully in Mandarin and recognise many words. We were unsure whether to send our kids to Chinese school, waited till the last minute, no preparation and then they had to pick up in school. What helped for us is lots of parental involvement, guidance and support. We can do this even though we don’t know Chinese, by studying and learning with them.

    You mentioned that your Chinese is rusty in your blog post, meaning you can easily pick it up again compared to people who had to start from scratch like me. 😉

  12. You are such a brave mommy 🙂

    I keep telling myself that kids are fast learners and he should be ok, but I don’t really want to throw him into the deep end either. He likes Mandarin now because he feels accomplished whenever he learns something new. But I’m not sure if I can say the same if he’s suddenly thrown into the deep end. Since we’re taking him out of preschool next year (means no more mandarin lessons in school), I figured I should put him back in some sort of Mandarin enrichment programme. Mandarin Lighthouse is good for toddlers but since they are new, there’s no dedicated class for preschoolers. Bao Bei is still an option. Or maybe I should just save my money and teach him myself (but that will require lots of commitment) 🙂

    I hate the idea of burdening the kids with extra tuition etc but sometimes its good to prepare them so they don’t have a culture shock like my son. He is still reeling from his culture shock. Just came home with a 54 for his Chinese Writing final year test. Eek! Haha. I hope he can catch up but sometimes it is the individual child too, his sister had the same culture shock but she is doing fine now. 😉

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