Education and Schools in Shanghai

Expat families in Shanghai will have a range of schooling options available to them. However, expat children rarely attend public schools in Shanghai and usually attend private international schools instead.

That being said, younger foreign children have increasingly been attending local kindergartens and public schools to learn the local language and better integrate into Chinese culture.

Attending a school where teaching is in a foreign language can become ostracising for older students, and most attend international schools where Mandarin language classes are taught. Depending on the school, students may be able to continue the curriculum from their home country.

A host of Chinese language schools in Shanghai are also available for adults, with word-of-mouth being one of the best ways to find a good school.

Public schools in Shanghai

As the Chinese economy and its expat population continue to expand, more foreigners are sending their children to public schools in China. Foreigners are becoming more comfortable with the idea of staying in the country for the long-term, and often want their children to assimilate as well as they can.

As is the case elsewhere, some public schools are better than others. Overall, the best schools in Shanghai offer high standards and may even be more competitive and rigorous than the schools in an expat's home country.

Most public schools work exclusively in Chinese, however, with few concessions made for foreign students. Furthermore, these schools often focus less on critical thinking and more on rote learning.

Private schools in Shanghai

Shanghai’s private schools tend to either be based on the state model or integrate aspects of foreign curricula. While they predominantly teach in Chinese, some offer instruction in English, including the city’s Montessori and Waldorf schools, which offer alternative approaches to education.

Private schools in Shanghai attract students from diverse but generally wealthier backgrounds. Tuition tends to be more costly than that of public schools, but still lower than that of the international schools.

As expected, it can generally be assumed that the city’s private schools offer better facilities and a wider range of extra-curricular activities than state schools.

International schools in Shanghai

Most expats living in Shanghai prefer sending their children to international schools. These institutions are widely available and tend to be the obvious choice for those wanting a smooth and quick transition.

Shanghai boasts one of the largest concentrations of international schools in China. Most schools either follow the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum or the curriculum taught in their respective home countries. The primary teaching language is usually English or the language of the school’s home country. Standard coursework often does feature local culture, however, and many schools teach Mandarin or Cantonese from a very young age.

The range of international schools in Shanghai is diverse and students of many different backgrounds attend them. Finding a place in a reputable international school is often difficult as waiting lists can be extensive. Companies that regularly employ expats sometimes reserve positions in these schools for their employees.

International schools can also be expensive. Expats should try to negotiate a place at an appropriate school before arriving in Shanghai. If this is impossible, they should arrange for their children’s education as soon as they can since, even if an employer agrees to cover the hefty costs of an international education, admissions can still be competitive. Interviews, placement tests and a general application are just a few basic admission requirements.

Homeschooling in Shanghai

Homeschooling is becoming more popular with locals and expats in China, especially in larger cities such as Shanghai. This might be a legitimate option for expats staying in Shanghai for the short-term who are unable to afford private or international schools.

Unfortunately, homeschooling in China is essentially illegal and is largely practised based on a legal oversight despite the law explicitly stating that children have to attend a school for at least nine years. The government has become increasingly vocal about its disapproval of homeschooling in recent years and has released numerous statements to this effect. Homeschooled children in China are prevented from writing the gaokao, which essentially means they are unable to attend a Chinese university.

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