Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Search

Over these two weeks, I will be been bringing Rosabelle to visit the various shortlisted pre-schools I was enquiring with since way back last early last year. I’m intending to start her on school from September this year (so if all goes well, I will be back at work after the October hols!). On Thursday, we first headed to Ke’er at Pingod. Armed with some questions and references from various sites like this and this, I’d actually arranged to go to another school, Qiming, on this day, but realized that it wasn’t near the Carrefour near our house, so I thought I’d think about it for another day if I was going to have to travel abit to get to her school. So off we went to my first choice, Ke’er, the kindy that Rosabelle’s good friends Mai Dou, Qi Qi, and another girl, Niu Niu, are attending.

There’s not going to be a best way to present this without being overly-wordy, and I do not have pictures to show, so here goes a bulleted checklist at best, haha!

Ke’er - The Good:
- Information for parents clearly displayed
- Some amount of children’s art being displayed in common areas and classrooms
- Nice and big classrooms, furniture, and cubbies
- TV is used only occasionally as a supplement
- They have a once-a-week cleaning of toys, with bedding sent home for parents to wash
- Their sick-kid policy of sending kids with fevers home
- The offer healthy foods (no junk food)
- Reasonable teacher : student ratio (4 for 20 kids)
- They practise a half-day bilingual scheme where one English native speaker is in class/leads the class for the latter half of the day

Ke’er - The Stellar:
- Parents’ comms apparently very good and comprehensive (daily/weekly/monthly reports, email comms etc)
- They handled the incident of Mai Dou falling and hurting his head well – according to his mum, they were most responsible and apologetic and did everything they could.
- On that note, Qi Qi’s mother also had positive things to say about the place, so they already had very good references.

Ke’er - The Bad:
- I didn’t need to make an appointment to view the place; i.e. just walk-in (so strangers can go in anytime and say they wanted to view the place). When we were done talking in the staff room (where our good girl occupied herself with a toy puzzle), I was expected to ‘tour’ the place myself with no teacher to bring me around.
- It’s not as near to our place as I thought, and it was a hassle finding the place in a taxi when we had to walk through and go around the apartments, and I had to carry her in the strong winds as we missed the entrance.
- The children’s toilets, though very clean, didn’t have partitions for the girls. (Rosabelle had to go, and we tip-toed in to use the toilet in one classroom as the children slept.)
- The corridor leading to the office was dark, and the lights were turned off – what if children went there and fell?
- The kids were sleeping at that time, but there were always loud footsteps outside because it was lunch/break-time for the staff as well.
- The teachers, or aides, I saw in the classrooms all looked very Ayi-like, like the nannies you find at home…
- There was quite a lot of blank space in the areas where the Principal said the children’s crafts should be…
- They were a mainly Chinese kindy and the last cohort was the start of their bilingual programme (i.e. not as experienced).
- The security guy wasn’t very friendly, gently shooing us out as he opened the door and waited outside as Rosabelle was on the slides.

Ke’er - The Shocking:
- When I asked the principal, who was a very nice lady, but strangely sends her own child to the international Ke’er at Lido (her staff said her house is nearer there), what her school objectives were, she said they have nothing fancy, just to cultivate happy children with a love of learning…
- It is located next to a recycling centre, and had very messy-looking outer environs with sand/rubbish outside its compounds – heck, a scraps collector was even eyeing us both as we were looking for the entrance.
- I think the worst was when I saw that there were some loose tiles falling off the lobby entrance -- with their sharp parts jutting out and harbouring the danger of cutting kids when they trip/fall over it. As Rosabelle ‘tried out’ their playground equipment, there was a wooden plank with steps on it with the last step dropped out, and obviously not maintained properly.

And so I left Ke’er with a heavy heart – if my first choice of school was just so passable at best, what about the rest? We then took a taxi to Jianwai SOHO to have lunch at Grandma’s Kitchen, where our girl loved the chicken fingers and fries (junk food alert!!!) and we feasted till we had to take away most of the foods for Nainai and I to have for dinner, haha.

The next day on Friday, we still went ahead to Qiming as it comes highly recommended by the mother of Baobao (a kid older than Rosabelle by only one month and started school early).

Qiming - The Good:
Other than the points listed in Ke’er’s Good above…
- There was a pets corner with kids rushing to see a rabbit – Rosabelle also went to crowd in with them and got shoved around as she was the smallest, haha!
- They also allocate (at a cost) things like towels, uniforms and slippers
- Their staff all looked rather professional and not as Ayi-like as Ke’ers
- Maybe it’s because I never saw the kids at play in Ke’er, but the kids at Qiming look happy and inquisitive. The teacher brought me around the school and entered Baobao’s class – Rosabelle caressed Baobao’s face gently and even hugged him, heh! She then went on to go snatch some older girl’s seat, but ended up being shoved off by an older boy, haha! Some kids came over to surround us, and not once did the teachers/aides stop them or scream at them to eat their lunch. They have a lot of empty space around the floors, and after lunch, the teachers brought them to walk/march along the corridors, singing songs to work off the meal before they took their naps.
- As they are in a relatively high-class residential area, their surroundings/compounds etc were all quiet, clean, and safe-looking.
- The security guy and staff were very friendly and patient – when he saw me feeding Rosabelle her grapes and reading to her, he hung around, and then asked a colleague to watch over us when he went to lunch, not once hurrying us.

Qiming - The Stellar:
- I had to make an appointment to see them, and I made at least 5 calls with a lot of changes and to-ing and fro-ing about the date and time, and they were most accommodating in allowing me to visit off-hours.
- The teacher received me at the gate and sat me down, presenting me with a school brochure (I’m a sucker for things like these…). Rosabelle was on her best behavior, agreeing to sit down and read by herself after I told her that Mummy is busy talking to the teacher. She even fed herself grapes, and the teacher commented she was very independent. The teacher also kept asking if I have any other questions, covering a lot of ground.
- There were a lot of crafts and arts displayed all over, even on the ceiling, and there was a stand with the birthday boy/girl’s photos displayed as well.
- Their playground equipment are all Little Tikes, and well-maintained.
- They have ‘orientation’ classes starting in March, where kids between 18-36 months can go to half-day classes from 9am-12pm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with Mummy, to experience kindy life. I thought that’s quite cool – it will help Rosabelle get used to school, the environment, the routine, and the teachers. I told them to contact me for their May/June classes as it’s quite intensive, and no point taking the classes so early on.

Qiming - The Bad:
- Maybe it was the lighting, or the white ceramic tiles, but the toilets looked quite dingy (though they have partitions for girls’ toilet bowls) – there are such facilities in each classroom. As kids can shower in summer, there were two shower outlets as well, but no partitions…hmmm… I hope they at least separate the boys from the girls!
- They actually have another campus at Zhu Jiang Di Jing near our house, but no vacancies, so this one that I went to (Rose Garden), is still a RMB15 taxi ride from our house, and I can imagine, a nightmare during morning peak hours…
- It’s more pricey than Ke’er (RMB3,466/month), working out to an average of RMB4,060/month, and a one-time RMB500 fee for supplements.

Qiming - The Shocking:
- There were some books in the common area that Rosabelle was helping herself to, but there was a very scant selection, with only Chinese books. Most of the books were also very tattered with torn spines and/or pages falling out. The teacher said kids can borrow them home, and they have new books every semester, so the books do go through wear and tear. But can’t somebody easily mend them when they get returned?

Anyway, I have already registered with both schools, who will call me when actual registration begins in May. Next week, I am planning to visit New Garden at Fu Li Cheng. I actually called the other bilingual one in our compound, called
Yue’er, and also under the same group as Ke’er, but their idea of bilingualism is only '15 minutes of English' for 2-3 year olds, so that is totally out of the question for me.

Given that I am trying to minimize travel time (Nainai will surely be doing the picking up in future), I am going to give
Little Oxford at SOHO New Town a try – I wasn’t keen to ask about them in the past as I’d heard that their English teachers are all Filipinos (the accent!), and they only teach English in uppercase (!). It was worse when I heard that the foods the children were served weren’t the ones stated in the menus provided to parents – they even had rotten cucumbers! Well, let’s see… and I will probably make a trip next week as well, so that I will have all these school visits out of the way before we head home next Sunday!

No comments: