A new era for expatriate education in China?

Rebecca Marriage looks at the impact of changes on families moving to China and what they mean when it comes to making school choices.

choosing an international school in China
China has rarely left the education press’s spotlight in recent months. Earlier this year, news broke of the first state-funded academy trust in England to open a fee-paying branch there. Joint-venture schools are emerging in response to local laws preventing the admission of local students, and the International Baccalaureate has announced its 1,000th approved programme in Beijing.With more global assignments in China than in any other country in the Asia Pacific region, it is little wonder that education choices and challenges for families moving to China are a hot topic in the press.Diane Glass, head of business development at ISC Research, speaking at the Re:locate Global International Education Forum held earlier this year, revealed that there were 525 English-medium international schools in China. Most of these are located in Tier 1 cities, with 23 per cent in Beijing and 22 per cent in Shanghai. Many others are located in the provincial capitals, such as Chengdu and Guangzhou.

Education challenges

But, according to recent reports, the cost of attending fee-paying English-medium schools in the region, with the scarcity of school places, is creating significant challenges for relocating families.The Global Times in China recently reported that school fees were beyond the reach of many expatriate families, even those on relocation packages. A software engineer at Microsoft told the paper that he had made the tough decision to move back to Seattle after discovering that sending his son to a Western school in Beijing “costs more than a college education – at least $30,000 every year”.At the Re:locate International Education Forum, Avrom Goldberg, senior vice-president, global solutions, at Lexicon Relocation, presented key findings from the company’s China Global Mobility 360 Survey. Education concerns, he said, were among the top challenges for assignees.Likewise, in its Trends in Global Relocation: Biggest Challenges Survey, Cartus found that China sat firmly in the top three countries in which schooling challenges were most frequently found. Cartus also reports that it is increasingly difficult to source places in international schools, with many having waiting periods of at least six months.

1,000th International Baccalaureate programme

However, with a recent announcement about the International Baccalaureate (IB), there is some good news for families seeking an international education in China. The IB Organisation announced earlier this year that it had authorised its 1,000th programme in the Asia Pacific region at the Keystone Academy, a bilingual school in Beijing which draws from Chinese, American and international learning.Commenting on the announcement, Andrew Macdonald, IB chief schools officer, said, “In Greater China and the rest of the Asia Pacific region, we continue to see steady growth in all IB programmes. They join the community of IB World Schools preparing students with the skills they will need to succeed at university and life beyond. Skills such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity, so valued by leading global employers, are at the heart of the IB programmes, teaching and learning."In the Asia Pacific region, the IB supports more than 620 schools, between them offering over 900 programmes in 29 countries and territories. In China, there are more than 120 IB schools.According to research conducted by the IB, teachers and administrators in five schools in China were confident that the Diploma Programme (DP) provided first-rate university preparation, thanks to its breadth and rigour. The quantitative portion of the study found that, between the years 2002 and 2012, over 70 per cent of IB graduates attended one of the world’s top 500 universities.

Bohunt Education Trust: Chinese connections

As Relocate Global has previously reported, the Bohunt Education Trust (BET), an academy school group with three schools in the south-east England, is to open and run a new school in Wenzhou, eastern China, by 2018 – a first for a state school in England.The group appears to be building on its connections with China following its involvement in the BBC documentary series Are Our Kids Tough Enough?, in which children from Bohunt School, in Liphook, were put through their paces by five teachers from China. Pupils were expected to meet the same standards as Chinese nationals, including working longer hours and fulfilling tougher academic expectations.BET chief executive Neil Strowger believes that the trust’s involvement in the new Chinese school will benefit students in both the UK and China. "We're delighted to be involved in this partnership,” he said, “which will allow us to build on our offering in the UK while bringing our outstanding educational model to students in China.”

Joint-venture schools

Beijing and Shanghai are home to the highest concentration of international schools in China. Traditionally, however, these have not been available to Chinese locals.A new breed of school is emerging in response to demand from wealthy local families seeking a traditional Western education. Sino-foreign cooperative schools are joint ventures between a Chinese owner and a foreign education company or school. They are restricted to secondary and higher education.The foreign organisation typically provides the teaching and learning, while the Chinese partner supplies the land and financial investment. Both expatriate and Chinese students can attend these schools.One such school, the Nord Anglia Chinese International School (NACIS), is due to open this September. "Our vision is to create a genuinely ambitious, multilingual school community," said executive principal Robert Graves. Sarah Graves, director of studies, told the Global Times, “We have combined the best learning objectives from international curriculums with the Shanghai National Curriculum."NACIS's curriculum will build on Chinese values and the core elements of the Shanghai National Curriculum, and will be taught in Putonghua and English.
Sarah Graves believes that she has learnt a great deal from working alongside a traditional Chinese style of education. "Perhaps Chinese students work a little bit harder after school and during lessons, and therefore perform better in exams. But I definitely think the Chinese mentality of being able to perform arithmetic without having to calculate, for example, is a strength. So I believe that we have a lot to learn from the Shanghai National Curriculum."There is no doubting that there are significant challenges facing families with school-age children relocating to China, but with these new developments, the situation for expatriates is evolving by the day.

Relocate Global’s new annual Guide to International Education & Schools provides a wealth of advice to anyone searching for a new school in the UK and in an international setting, and offers insights into what it takes to make the right school choice. 

APAC global mobility magazine
Read more about China and the Asia-Pacific region in our APAC Summer 2016 digital magazine.

For more Relocate Global news and features about the Asia Pacific region, see our Asia and China sections.

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