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Boarding in New Zealand: exciting benefits and stability

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Are you looking into boarding school options for your kids  in Asia Pacific? Sam Fisher suggests you start your search in New Zealand

Finding the right school for your child is as big a job now as it has ever been, with options aplenty and the standard of education at an all-time high. Hong Kong’s international schools are regarded among the world’s best, but many families are excited by the benefits and indeed the stability an overseas boarding school education can bring. Overseas boarders get round-the-clock education and a built-in social life, and for expat kids, of course, being schooled in their ‘home country’ can be a tremendously grounding experience. If you have the wherewithal, and you want your child to be totally immersed in an educational environment, and/ or you have a busy career yourself, it’s clear that a full-time boarding school has much to offer.

The top boarding schools provide children with a structured approach to both academic studies and extracurricular activities, with 24/7 access to sports and recreation facilities. There’s also social interaction with friends and peers of all ages, the opportunity to learn personal and social responsibility, zero travel time to school… safety and supervision.

The question is where to start your search for a school… for many Hong Kong-based parents, New Zealand’s reputation for educational excellence, its stable political climate and laid-back outdoorsy culture makes it a first port of call.

A sheltered environment

Even more so than Hong Kong, New Zealand provides a sheltered environment for children to live and grow. It’s a slow-paced, primarily rural haven in which old-world values are still prioritised. Pack a Hong Kong kid off to boarding school in sleepy Auckland (population 1.6 million) and he’s not going to experience the culture shock, he’s not going to feel as lost, as he would if he suddenly found himself in bustling New York City (population 8.6 million).

For the most part, New Zealand’s top international boarding schools are scattered across the two main islands – the North and South islands – though some are found on the smaller islands, hundreds of miles from the main group. In terms of children’s security and wellbeing, New Zealand’s remoteness appeals to parents – it lies more than 1,600 kilometres southeast of Australia, its nearest neighbour. Importantly though for anxious parents and homesick kids, there’s a direct (11-hour) flight from Hong Kong to Auckland.

Despite being so remote, New Zealand has a thriving culture, based around a handful of surprisingly cosmopolitan cities. Boarding in the vicinity of places like Christchurch, Wellington or Auckland is certain to extend a child’s life experience. What’s more, New Zealand is a land of great natural beauty. Mighty glacier lakes, gargantuan caves, verdant valleys, dazzling fjords, long sandy beaches and the  spectacular snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps on the South Island – there is so much for children to experience and explore. A healthy, outdoorsy, pollution-free lifestyle beckons.

Educational excellence

Educational excellence is a key factor that attracts Hong Kong-based parents (and their kids) to boarding schools in New Zealand. The schools’ achievements are very transparent and therefore comparable. The fact that the majority now take part in international ranking systems spurs top academic standards.

Boarders can choose from a huge variety of courses and curricula depending on their interests and dispositions. Moreover, students gain internationally recognised qualifications (for instance the International Baccalaureate Diploma) which enable them to goon to study at top universities all over the world.

The leading New Zealand boarding schools tend to have not just great teachers but specialist facilities, meaning they are able to cater to children with abilities that are either above or below average. With small classes averaging 12 students, study hall hours, and access to teachers living on campus, boarders feel  the benefit and find they can excel inside the classroom and out. The favourable teacher-student ratio provides for optimal supervision and support; highly qualified staff create a positive learning atmosphere which likewise motivates students.

The leading New Zealand boarding schools tend to have not just great teachers but specialist facilities, meaning they are able to cater to children with abilities that are either above or below average. With small classes averaging 12 students, study hall hours, and access to teachers living on campus, boarders feel the benefit and find they can excel inside the classroom and out. The favourable teacher-student ratio provides for optimal supervision and support; highly qualified staff create a positive learning atmosphere which likewise motivates students.

Parents who are attracted to the New Zealand boarding school system value the sheer volume of academics, athletics and extracurricular activities on offer; they are also drawn to the wide range of schools available. While the jury is out about whether children benefit most from single-sex or co-ed schooling, both educational models are well represented within the New Zealand boarding school system. There is also a good selection of ‘faith schools’ that teach a general curriculum but which have a particular religious character or formal links with a religious- or faith-based organisation.

Whole person development

Boarding these days is about developing the whole person, and New Zealand boarding schools provide children with not just educational opportunities but a vital place to grow. Living and studying within a school community, boarders have access to top-notch sports, music and arts facilities, as well as academic societies. They get to socialise, and learn to cope independently alongside their peers, without leaving the school premises – and all of this happens under the watchful eye of teachers who are mentors, not helpers or babysitters.

Surrounded by their peers from the moment they wake up till the second they fall asleep, the bonds of friendship that boarders develop are incredibly strong and often these relationships endure long into adult life. Boarders come to rely on their friends as they would their family, and they feel secure within such a tight-knit international community. Boarders learn to be self-disciplined in all areas, from personal hygiene to academic organisation. This prepares them for life in the adult world. The aim is for students to develop inter-cultural understanding, independence and a powerful sense of community.

New Zealand boarding houses are well-managed with clear guidelines. Professional supervisors are on hand to help students succeed and thrive; catering teams accommodate any special dietary needs including religious, vegetarian and allergies. A high priority is placed on nutrition and students are encouraged to make healthy choices. Everything on campus is geared to students’ betterment and/ or enjoyment, and their needs are prioritised, which is not something all children, particularly those whose parents are busy with their own careers, get to experience at home.

The opportunity to homestay

One of the biggest criticisms that can be made of the boarding school system is that the influence family has on a young person’s life is compromised. Arguably, the best education happens when a student is benefiting from both a close-knit, supportive home environment and also an excellent school environment – and this is where many boarders miss out. Not so in New Zealand however, where the opportunity for students to ‘homestay’ is common to many schools. Homestay is a rewarding experience for overseas students since it allows them to become a part of a New Zealand family,with whom they live seven days a week.

The Education (Pastoral Care of International Students) Code of Practice 2016 (including amendments 2019) requires schools to ensure that overseas students studying in New Zealand are safe and properly cared for.Therefore, students are required to live in school-approved homestays only. All homestay providers are police-vetted, and regularly monitored through home visits and interviews with students.

In return for the constant hands-on support of their surrogate family, students are expected to help with minor chores, like setting the table and washing the dishes at mealtimes, making their beds and keeping their room clean and tidy. Could this be the home-away-from-home, you’re seeking for your kids?

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