Education and Schools in China

Expat parents are faced with a difficult decision when choosing a school in China. Language and cultural barriers are two of the biggest considerations they'll have to deal with.

There is a variety of options when it comes to education in China, and expats can send their children to schools in the public, private or international sectors. Homeschooling is another popular choice for expats, as well as some locals.

Known for its rigid, exam-driven public system and an educational philosophy that emphasises results and discipline, China is serious about schooling.

International schools in China

Most expats in China 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 many medium-sized cities will have at least two or three in close proximity. Most follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum or the curriculum from the country 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 school's home country.

International schools in China come in different forms and cater to all kinds of students. 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's often best for parents to start corresponding from their home country. One thing that connects all of these schools is the high cost of tuition. Costs at some schools rival international university tuition. Expats moving to China should try to negotiate an education allowance into their package if one isn't already included. 

Public schools in China

Foreigners occasionally choose to send their children to public schools in China, particularly in the early preschool years. 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 choose this option should be aware that Chinese schools don't 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.

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 offer instruction in English as well as Chinese. Alternative learning schools, such as Montessori and Waldorf, also fall into this category. 

They often boast better infrastructure, state-of-the-art facilities and a larger selection of extra-curricular activities than state alternatives. Tuition costs more than in public schools, but a lot less than international schools.

Private schools in China tend to attract students from diverse but well-to-do backgrounds.

Homeschooling in China

Homeschooling has been growing in popularity among foreigners and locals alike in recent years and larger cities often have homeschooling support groups for parents and students, which provide opportunities for families to interact with one another.

However, homeschooling is frowned upon by the government, and is essentially illegal. Chinese law stipulates that all children are to receive nine years of compulsory education at a registered school. Although the government has not yet fully implemented this law, it has become increasingly vocal about its disapproval of the practice in recent years and has reiterated in numerous statements that homeschooling is not acceptable in the People's Republic.

Expat parents intending to homeschool their children should consider their options carefully.

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