My children are schooling me on school

Back in the school year of 2016

An old friend and I were chatting via messenger one night (late my time, but midday her time) about our resilient kids and how they adapt to their new home country’s education systems and curriculums. At the time of writing this draft she had recently moved to Germany with her husband and kids.

She is by no means one to have ever kept her thoughts and opinions silent and her height added to her frightening abilities. There were a few opening lines of the conversation of bullying at school and then the part I knew was coming… “I just want to *%$#  the parents up. I wait at the school gate… lol so now he doesn’t tell me anymore.” I felt for her as we were living through it with Kelsey and my thoughts and emotions were just as real. I tried to manage it as best as I could by telling Kels to ignore the bully or kill him with kindness, but he wasn’t letting up. I then escalated to speaking to the assistant teacher and 3 days later to the class teacher. She took control of the situation and thank heavens we have managed to put an end to all the victimizing and within a few months we were at the play-date stage.

There is always a fine line for me, I prefer to speak first and punch later. Chef told him to punch first and apologise later – must be a German thing!

What did I do to help my son? It was a matter of building up his confidence again and making him both mentally and physically strong. Starting off we signed up with Kumon to up his maths game. We joined the tennis club for lessons 3 times a week and he did gymnastics every Saturday morning. Towards the end of the year he dropped the gymnastics and took up swimming. I received a message from his coach yesterday suggesting that Kelsey starts swimming competitively (as in school galas) as he shows great potential in his freestyle and butterfly abilities. Shout out to myself right here!

Anyways, the whole bullying thing got me questioning the school selection I had made – NOT that we have a huge selection here. Should I have rather sent my son to Tunku Putra which has more of a “holistic education system?” Would my gentle natured son met a different kind of bully there? Is he going to make it in Lodge’s competitive environment? Yes, I know bullies are everywhere, but neither of us were really prepared for the situation at hand.

I can’t help myself from comparing the amazing school vs sport life we had at King Edwards Prep School in JHB. Nothing will come close to the tradition, school unity and education we were fortunate to be a part of for the 3 years.  You see, the things I find hardest here, is it is an all or nothing game plan here. The school day starts at 8am and finishes at 3pm or 4pm depending on your year. Thereafter, kids go for extra tuition and or external sports. They will eat dinner late and once they are done with dinner they have to study another hour and eventually go to bed well after 10pm. I have tried my hardest to keep our SA routine with getting them to bed early and up early. This obviously doesn’t allow for much play or chill time for them.

With the first full year complete there has been a huge change in him. When we first got here, he battled terribly with maths, but finished off the year with a fantastic B.  He speaks about being a Scientist all day long and shows a keen interest in all things science. No surprise here that Science and IT were both A*. He wishes to join the robotics team this year. The arts and music along with the languages (apart from English) did not score anywhere remotely close to B’s, and I am hoping to work on that this year. The teacher’s comment: “He shows a positive attitude to learning. He contributes interesting ideas to class discussions with his ability to think outside of the box. Kelsey is a natural learner and will go far in all his does.” He was made class monitor for the year today and he has been nominated to be a prefect.

He is the kind of child that wakes up early, gets out of bed, dresses, brushes teeth and is ready and waiting for you. No nagging needed. He nags his brother for me. He hates being late for school. I hope his kind nature and eagerness for school and knowledge will never cease.

Liam did a sterling job too, and excelled in everything, except for Mandarin. His long days inside his, recently airconed, classroom, just makes me sad. Toilet visits are at set times only and kids are encouraged to wait until the whole class goes altogether. He only had outside play once a week for an hour. He wrote 3 tests a week – English, Mandarin and Bahasa Malay. I would be so much happier if they could at least have 30 min in the morning to play outside on the jungle-gyms. Again coming back to the work vs play balance. That being said, a little discipline and structure for Liam is not a bad thing.

Teachers comment: “Congratulations and well done, Liam. You have shown a lot of improvement in all the main subjects except for Mandarin. He is a cheerful and well behaved pupil. ”

Our chosen school follows a British National Curriculum and then from the age of 16 it becomes even more competitive as they start with the Cambridge International Advanced levels (IGCSE and IGCE). Unofficially, I do feel that it tends to be predominately a Chinese influenced education system and that means discipline and top scores is the order of the day, with very little socialising and fun time spared for the kids. The more educated you are, the more successful you will be. The more money you make, the more status you have!

That being said, the students get to attend religious and social groups that are not really available back in SA schools. So for example there is the science club, Christian prayer group, gardening club. I like the fact that they get to be a part of a shared interest group.

They are settled now, so I will not move them and I do believe that we (I have no choice) will get used to the long school hours. Have I made the right choice? Time will tell? However, I will not push them to be grade A students and to excel in all that they do. I want them to be balanced and happy, that is all.

Oh and whilst I am being slightly vocal, I’d like to suggest that school canteen gets a revamp, starting at the food. You do not need to fry everything… let alone serve a scoop of chocolate ice-cream between a slice of bread. How about some fruits on sale?

To all those parents who are looking at new schools or new countries and new schools, can I recommend that you visit the school with your child. Get a feel of the school. Observe how the other children behave in the classroom environment and ask yourself…”will my child flourish and be the best that he can be in this environment?” Enquire how frequently teachers rotate (this is a real problem in the international schools, as english speaking teachers come for a year and then go, not great for sensitive kids). There will always be a trade-off, I am afraid.

Oh yah, and totally choose a house near to school or school near to house, either way, I love that I am within a 10 min drive to both schools.

To my boys… you have made me so bloody proud. Not only academically, but socially as well. You have made friends with children of various religions and cultures. You have embraced their traditions and brought them home to share with me. You have said farewell to many expat children and families (Shakir, Dylan, soon to be Diago and Aly) within our community and accepted that we too will leave Kuching one day. You have found fishing! As we start another academic year, may you both continue to do the best that you can all that you do. Be that guy Liam!

PS – Kelsey – Not all prefects lose their social lives once they receive a badge. Ask Kimmy and Tammy.

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