But are attempts to turn under-fives into all singing, all dancing, sports superstars who can recite their timetables in three languages actually good for the children?
Chiu says it is wrong for children to learn as much and as early as possible. He explains that children can only perform certain tasks when they reach certain ages.
Doris Cheng Pui-wa, associate professor in the Department of Early Childhood Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, agrees.
“It is unnecessary for adults to force their children to learn,” Cheng says, “It will reduce their natural ability to explore and learn, or even kill their curiosity.”
She says Hong Kong parents’ focus on results and tangible outcomes is what drives kindergartens and nursery schools to be so results-oriented. On top of that, there is a proliferation of playgroups and interest classes that are designed to prepare children for the primary school admission interviews.
Interviews are used to determine admission at private and direct subsidy primary schools. Children who apply to aided and government schools are not required to take part in interviews. But for those who do not get their top choices after the central allocation results are out, there is still a chance of getting a place in one of their chosen schools through what is known as the “door knocking” stage. This is because schools may reserve a few places for children after the central allocation and will selectively interview some parents and children who apply at this stage.
So Yip-ming and Lo Chiu-wah, who have a son and a daughter, went through the whole process with their son last summer. They say it was an exhausting journey. When their son was allocated to his eighth choice in the central allocation, they rushed around and knocked on the doors of three schools within a day. In the end, their son was one of the eight successful door-knockers at the Baptist Lui Ming Choi Primary School, which is a prestigious school in the Sha Tin area and received a total of 404 applicants for 164 places.
Before the central allocation, So and Lo had applied to private and direct subsidy schools such as Ying Wa Primary School. Their son passed the first two rounds of interviews but failed to pass the final round at Ying Wa.