While international schools were set up at the beginning for foreigners’ children to receive education in their mother language, today Chinese parents are sending their children to international schools in China either for improving their children’s English skills or evading the Chinese traditional education system.
Besides international schools, there are also international classes affiliated with Chinese public schools, set up with the same purpose. Some guarantee students with double degrees, one from the domestic school, and the other from an American school.
According to Xiong Bingrui, vice president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, it is hard to estimate the total number of international schools in China. But according to some Chinese media, there were a total of 276 international schools until September 2011, and by the end of 2015, the number had increased to 546, with those from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou accounting for more than a half.
In 2014, the Beijing education commission started to close international classes affiliated with public high schools, but such policy did not stop the fast-growing international school market in China.
In order to attract parents who want to send their children to America, international schools usually advertise themselves with slogans like “American style education” or “a through train to renowned American universities.”
While most parents are impressed by the personalized education environment of such international schools, they are also often overawed by the sky-high tuition which targets the wallets of Chinese middle class.
Usually each class has less than 30 students and the average spending on tuition each year can be over 100,000 yuan (around $15,240), about 50 times that of a traditional public school in China, an anonymous educator told the US China Press.
“Many so-called international schools are not qualified. Some of them are owned by private education agencies, some are owned by companies, so they are neither regulated by the education authority nor business departments,” Xiong told the US China Press.
Worshipping foreign teachers
For many parents who send their children to international schools, one of the most important motivations is to improve their children’s English, as well as education by a native speaker, which has made the hiring of a foreign teacher rather expensive and difficult.
“One thing students may not know is that large part of the money they pay to the international school goes to the foreign teachers. Their annual salary is $40,000 to $50,000 dollars,” an anonymous insider told the US China Press, “It will be very hard to hire a foreign teacher with less than this amount.”
For the international classes affiliated to some public schools, one problem is how to find enough foreign teachers, because foreign teachers of a public school must be hired by local education authorities in China. A public school which hires foreign teachers from an agency may be regarded as irregular, because the teaching quality and background of the foreign teachers offered by an agency is difficult to guarantee.
According to Xiong, under the current Chinese law, hiring a foreign teacher should be authorized by the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, and should be examined each year. 377 medium and small-sized education agencies in Beijing are qualified to hire foreign teachers.
Chinese parents’ “blind” worship of the foreign teacher is one of the important reasons for the growing foreign teacher market in China, Xiong said.
Evading traditional education system
“I want to value my son’s personality, instead of letting Gaokao determine his life,” said Huang who sent her son to an international school in Beijing.
Huang is not the only mother in China who does not want her child to suffer the painstaking learning process guided by Gaokao and wants to send her child to study in America instead.
Huang is also one of the parents whose income has increased in the past few years, but the education environment of traditional Chinese private or public schools cannot meet her need for a more personalized learning environment for her child, said Xiong.
Qin Yue, from south China’s Guangdong province, went to the United States to study at a local high school after she had studied in an international school in Guangzhou, which teaches American high school courses.
Although there are differences in the learning methods of China and America, Qin said she could better and more quickly fit into the new education environment of the US than other students from traditional schools in China.
“It’s (international school) just like a ‘springboard’. The academic score system is almost the same with that of my former international school in China. All I need to do is to get along well with my classmates here,” Qin said.
However, even when some students are able to study at an international school in China, it doesn’t mean a “happy ending” for all of them. While some are admitted by renowned foreign schools, some are caught in a dilemma - neither can they fit into the US learning environment nor the Chinese exam-oriented education system.
Chen Zhe is attending high school at an international school after graduating from a public middle school in China. He said that studying at an international school is not easier than studying at a traditional Chinese school, because no matter which school you attend, you need to work hard. The only difference is the learning focus.
“Chinese physics and chemistry education teaches students to apply one formula to solving all problems, while the International Baccalaureate wants students to understand how a formula came into being, which is harder for Chinese students who are used to large scale of tests,” said Chen.
Although most international schools in China say they can send their students “directly” to renowned American schools, the real admission rate is still unknown. Some students, who have studied at an international school but turn out to be unsuitable to American learning style, may also lose the best timing to prepare for their biggest examination in life, Gaokao.
“There is neither good nor bad education system. As long as it is good for a student’s personality, ability, and future career, it will be the best education. Parents should be rational instead of just following the trend when it comes to their children’s education,” said Xiong.
(This article is translated and edited by Chunmei.)