This topic is very dear to my heart as it is something that my husband and I chose for our children. It hasn’t been an easy pursuit especially when matters like halal food, mandarin homework are of concern.

Here are a list of preparations we have done ever since our children were four years old, hope it helps parents out there to decide whether to go for SK, SJKC, private or international streams.

1. Work backwards, from the age of 7 to your child’s current age today
Identify if you can afford to send them to private and international schools all the way from 4 years old until 21/22 years old. Yes, factor in university too. Do this forecast based on your current and projected future income, as well as factoring how much wealth or cash you will leave behind for inheritance in the event of your demise before your children can complete university. Avoid being overly confident thinking that your salary alone can cover the entire course of education from preschool to university. Think about plan B and contingencies too. I help my clients to forecast their projected income growth, affordability, projected future school fees (with inflation) and plan for contingencies.

If the above route is not feasible, then narrow down the options for SK or vernacular schools like SJKC.

2. Send your children to preschool at 4 if you opt for SJKC
Gone are the days where one thinks sending children to school at the age of 4 is “too early”. Most couples today are working parents, sending our children to school earlier can help them with motor skills, social skills and help them pick up mandarin faster. Believe it or not, children are like sponge! They pick up things easily the younger they are. At 4, children will learn the basics of mandarin like strokes and pin yin. As they progress to 5 years old class, the transition is easier as they have a basic foundation already. Do not underestimate the intelligence of your children. You’ll be surprised how much they understand and remember at such tender age.

3. Select kindergarten which offers mandarin as main medium or trilingual with mandarin enrichment programme
Avoid what we did, our children shifted from one kindergarten to another. We started off with a kindergarten which offered mandarin as a one hour subject only, then we shifted to another kindergarten which offered mandarin as the main medium. They did much better in the latter. Children adapt better when their environment only speaks mandarin, vs English as the main medium with exposure to mandarin as just another subject offered. There are kindergartens which carry out its first session in English and Bahasa, followed by extended enrichment programme in the afternoon to support students who are going for SJKC direction. This option is also much better than just having mandarin as just a subject. Remember, the more exposure children get from mandarin, the easier it is for them to master this third language.

4. Apply for SJKC allocation when your child is 5
Good SJKC schools are aplenty, however their allocations are sometimes limited based on first come first serve basis, and other factors such as distance from home address to school, if there is an older sibling in the school etc. I’ve heard friends being rejected for school allocation and rejected again during the appeal round. To minimise the rate of rejection, ensure you apply for your children’s school allocation in March in the same year where your child turns 5. Don’t delay til their 6 unless you’re applying for a school that’s not hot in most parents’ list.

5. Find out if the SJKC supports Islamic learning and other practices such as halal meals
We were given an opportunity to tour the SJKC when my child was 5, because his kindergarten concert was held there. We had initially applied for another SJKC so when the result was out in the following year, we changed it to the SJKC where my son had his concert. The SJKC we had finally settled for will gather all Muslim children before official school hours and do Agama class together, albeit the frequency is only once a week – this small effort makes a difference. We also found out there were halal meal options offered by Muslim canteen operators or we could pre-order halal lunch boxes from outside vendor. Either way it works for us.

6. Identify other additional support classes such as homework and tuition center before school hours and Agama classes
These were two of our main worries. We sorted this part out by enrolling him into a before-school programme which runs from 8am until 11.30am, where during this session, the center will provide support for homework, tuition and halal lunch. Transportation will also be provided to send children to school.

For Agama, we have opted for private KAFA classes which runs either on weekdays or on Saturday. At the same time, we support our children’s Agama learning by calling ustaz/ustazah to our home.

7. Additional one to one mandarin tuition when your child is 6
This is just to ensure your child can cover the areas where he’s weaker as well as adjusting to reading exercise book instructions in mandarin.

Sounds like a lot of work (and money), heck yeah. The ROI can only be seen later, just like any investments we make. What’s important is we continue to encourage our children, remind them why we are taking on such pursuit. There will be days where you’ll lose your mind, negotiating why homework is important, plus mandarin school homework is a lot more than other types of school.

Love is the language before mandarin, so use a lot of love to negotiate. Our children are our greatest wealth, so invest in them like how you would want others to invest in you. All the best.. and good luck!

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