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5 Tips to prepare for SJKC (Chinese vernacular school) from a ‘banana’ mum’s perspective

Mandarin work

Finding the right school for your child is no easy task. As a ‘banana’ mum (a Chinese mum who can’t speak or read Chinese), deciding to send my children to a SJKC (Chinese vernacular school) was a relatively hard decision but after weighing out all the pros and cons for our family, we figured it was the right move for us. If you are a banana parent like me and is thinking of enrolling your child into a SJKC, here are some tips and preparations to help on this exciting yet unfamiliar journey.

Have at least 2 to 3 years of preschool/kindergarten Mandarin education

The early years of a child’s life, from birth to around the age of 6, are generally considered the critical period in brain development. The brain is incredibly absorbent during these years and takes in information rapidly (everything from language to motor and social skills). Hence, it is advisable to start sending your child to preschool/kindergarten when they turn 4.

Make sure you find a school which teaches Mandarin and/or uses it as a main medium or at least offers mandarin as an enrichment programme. At 4, they will start learning the basics of Mandarin such as strokes and pin yin (pronunciation), and as they progress to the next year, the transition gets easier as they have a basic foundation already. Ensure that you are comfortable with the frequency of Mandarin lessons taught every week as this differs in each school.

When my daughter was 6, I changed her to a different kindergarten as the school had a stream that offered Mandarin as the main medium of communication. This was to get her adapted to a teaching environment that only speaks Mandarin – the more exposure they get to the language, the easier it is for them to master it.

Choose a SJKC that is most suited to your child and that you are eligible to qualify for

SJKC classroom

Most government SJKC allocations are based on the distance from your home address to the school, which means that if you live in Petaling Jaya but the school you are applying for is in Kuala Lumpur, chances of getting in will be low as priority will be given to students who live close by first.

Besides considering distance, other factors to consider include the size of the school and classes, the facilities and also the environment. My daughter is currently enrolled to a SJKC near our home, but because it is a big school with many students, the school times are split into morning session (for Standards 4, 5 and 6 kids) and afternoon session (for Standards 1, 2 and 3 kids). It took a bit of effort to adjust to an afternoon schedule but we got into routine pretty quick.

Find a good tutor/tuition centre/day care and prepare for the costs

SJKC textbooks

You might think that sending your child to a SJKC will be relatively cheap, but for a banana mum, not quite. As I cannot read nor write Mandarin, it is very hard for me to help with my daughter’s school homework. Google translate only helps half the time (sometimes it is not accurate), hence I send her for Mandarin tutoring lessons twice a week.

A good tutor or tuition centre/daycare which offers help with school homework is indispensable and definitely something you have to spend on. All subjects in school are taught in Mandarin except for English and Bahasa Malaysia, so you need to have a strong command of the language to master all the other subjects like Mathematics and Science.

Communicate with other classmates’ parents

These days, parents WhatsApp group chats are normally created for each class so parents can keep each other informed about school matters or even to discuss about their children’s homework! Trust me when I say that the group chat always feels like a ‘support group’ for parents, even more so for banana mums like me.

Manage your expectations and be flexible

Learning a language that is not spoken at home is tough. Set realistic expectations and goals for your child. At the end of the day, if you find that your child is struggling to cope with the Chinese school workload or is falling behind in studies because of the language despite all efforts, then there is nothing to be ashamed of if you decide to pull them out. Learning should be fun and children should enjoy the whole process, so if the Chinese school route doesn’t work out, hey there are many other types of schools to consider!

If SJKC is not for you, and you’re pondering international schools, reading about the costs of international schools might help your decision!

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