Education and Schools in China

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Children at school in ChinaExpat parents are faced with a difficult choice in deciding which school in China is best suited for their children. While many of their concerns are universal, the language and cultural barriers their kids will be faced with are major considerations that most parents don’t have to deal with.

There is a variety of options when it comes to education in China, and expats will be able to select from schools in the public, private and international sectors. Homeschooling is also a popular choice with expats as well as some locals, and is another viable option.

Known for a rigid, exam-driven public system and an educational philosophy that emphasises results and discipline, the People’s Republic is serious about schooling.

International schools in China

Most expats in China prefer to send their children to an international school. In no short supply, these institutions are often the obvious choice for parents that want a smooth and quick transition for their children.

Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou boast the largest concentrations of international schools but most medium-sized cities will have at least two or three in close proximity.

Most schools either follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum or the curriculum from the respective countries they represent. That said, standard coursework often features local culture, and many schools teach Mandarin or Cantonese. Classes are usually in English or the primary language of the country the school represents.

International schools in China come in different forms and cater to all kinds of students. One thing that connects all of them is the high cost of tuition. Costs at some schools rival international university tuition, with fees for senior students approaching 250,000 RMB.

Expats moving to China should try to negotiate an education allowance into their package if one is not already included. 

Even if an employer agrees to cover these high costs, admission to these schools is competitive and the most popular often have long waiting lists.

Admission can be a long process involving forms, interviews, placement tests and application fees, and it is often best for parents to start corresponding from their home country.

Public schools in China

As its economy continues to expand and its expat population keeps growing, more foreigners are sending their children to public schools in China. Western families are becoming more comfortable with the idea of permanence in the Far East, and some want their children to become as well assimilated as possible.

As is often the case, some state schools in China are better than others. Overall, the best schools offer a high standard of education and, in many cases, are more competitive and more rigorous than the public options in an expat’s home country.

Foreigners who do choose this option should be aware that Chinese schools do not have second language programmes. All lessons and coursework are in Chinese, with few concessions made for foreign students. Furthermore, the teaching style tends to centre less around critical thinking and more on teaching by rote.

Tuition costs vary, but even the most expensive public schools are cheaper than their international equivalents.

Private schools in China

Some Chinese private schools are better-funded equivalents of state-sponsored education, while others integrate aspects of international curricula and may even offer instruction in English as well as Chinese. Alternative learning schools, such as Montessori and Waldorf, also fall into this category.

Private schools in China tend to attract pupils from diverse, but well-to-do backgrounds, as well as many local children whose standardised test scores did not qualify them for one of the more reputable public schools.

These schools often boast better infrastructure, state-of-the-art facilities and a larger selection of extra-curricular activities than state alternatives.

Tuition generally costs more than in public schools, but tends to be lower than international schools.

Homeschooling in China

Many expats find that their children's education options are constrained by finances. Couples who migrate to teach English in China, in particular, often don’t earn enough to send their kids to a school that suits their standards.

Homeschooling is the most plausible option for many expats in China, and has been growing in popularity with foreigners and locals alike. Larger cities also often have homeschooling groups in place to support parents and students, and provide an opportunity to interact with other families.

Those who do choose to home school often bring the necessary learning materials with them, or  purchase them online and pay international shipping charges – the selection of English literature in China is fairly limited and tends to be costly.

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