The Chinese take schooling very seriously and the country is known for its rigid, results-driven educational philosophy. This can often come as quite a culture shock to expats moving to China from countries that employ a more holistic approach.

China offers a number of public, private and international schooling options for expat families. The decision of which school to choose will depend on a number of factors including the age of the child, cost and the family’s location within China.

In the past, Chinese public schools haven’t been a viable option for expat students mainly because of the language barrier and incredibly disciplined approach to learning. While expats are entitled to send their children to these schools, most people don’t because there are no second-language programmes and very few concessions are made to accommodate the needs of foreign students.

However, as most Western families are beginning to make long-term moves to East Asia, public schools are becoming more popular, especially for parents who want their children to be as well assimilated into the local culture as possible.

The standard of public schools in China varies considerably. Overall, the best schools do offer a high standard of teaching but in many cases this also means that they are more competitive and rigorous than similar public schooling options in an expat’s home country.
Private schools in China range from better-funded versions of state-sponsored public education to institutions that integrate aspects of international curricula and offer instruction in English and the local language. Expats will also find that alternative models of learning such as Montessori and Waldorf also fall under private schools.

Generally, private schools in China offer better infrastructure and a larger selection of extra-curricular facilities in comparison to the state alternatives. These institutions tend to attract students from diverse but well-to-do backgrounds. In terms of schools fees, private schools charge more than local public schools but considerably less than the international options. 
international schools

The majority of expats in China opt to send their children to an international school. There are plenty to choose from, especially in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai. These institutions are often the obvious choice for parents looking for a smooth transition for their children.

Expats will find international schools that follow a range of different curricula including British, American and the International Baccalaureate (IB). While most classes will be conducted in English or the primary language of the school’s home country, many international schools also offer classes on local culture as well as Mandarin or Cantonese language lessons.

The most popular international schools tend to be oversubscribed and many have long waiting lists in place so it is best to apply as early as possible. Admission processes can be rather arduous, involving lots of forms, interviews, placement tests and application fees. Tuition fees at international schools are high, so expats may want to negotiate an education allowance.