Toddlers face life's first big interview

Attempting to get into the best schools, universities and jobs is a tough and demanding time for many people worldwide. Yet in Hong Kong, the pressure starts earlier, with parents trying to get their children into the best nurseries and kindergartens, hoping to give their children the placement that will help them to succeed in life.

To help with the process, there are now classes designed to help the toddlers with the all-important interviews. Most of the interview class pupils age around 18 months, with some pupils even starting classes as young as eight months old. Interviews for nursery starting for two year olds, as the most prestigious nurseries are selective, and the competition for places is intense, with thousands of applicants for just a few dozen places.

The reason for wanting to get into the best nurseries and kindergartens is because parents believe it will lead on to the best primary schools, which in turn acts as a gateway into the best secondary schools, and then onto universities. The costs for 12 training sessions at one institution comes to approximately £390, which is about a quarter of the average monthly income for families. There are also pre-school age classes in English and Mandarin to help them excel and parents are now going as far as developing portfolios of their children's classes as well as playgroups and holidays.

At classes pupils are asked to introduce themselves to the tutor before being asked to complete a number of tasks such a building a house out of bricks, drawing a picture, sticking felt eyes onto a felt face in the correct position and identifying fruit.

At interviews children are observed on how they play with toys, as it indicates their basic motor skills and how they interact with other children. Singing and moving to music as a group activity is also monitored, along with the level of eye contact made when they are spoken to. Interviewers may also ask children to identify shapes, colours or describe scenes from books. The questioning has become more complex in some institutions where toddlers are asked questions such as 'what are eyes for' or to identify different eggs.

Manners also have a part in the interview process, with sweets offered at the end of the interview. Children are expected to accept and say 'thank you'. Taking too many is seen as greedy whereas declining is seen as impolite. Confident children are more likely to do well at interview, even at 18 months being shy is seen as a disadvantage. The interviewers not only observe the children, but will also watch the parents, sometimes more closely, to see how pushy the parents are.

There are concerns from one kindergarten owner as well as the assistant professor in early childhood education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Their main concern is that parents are too demanding and that education in Hong Kong has become too commercial. They fear that if children are pushed too hard then their interest in learning will decline. This is backed up by the fact that globally, Hong Kong has one of the highest levels of reading skill, yet interest in reading is very low.

The experts feel that the best approach for parents would be to spend more time with their children at home, playing and reading to help develop a life long interest in learning, as education should not just be functional.

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Author: Elizabeth Shaw