Public, Private, International


A good education is highly prized in Chinese culture, but in recent years it has been harder for local families to pay for due to rising costs and lowered government spending.

A nine-year compulsory education system is in place for Chinese children (from age 6 to 15). During the period of compulsory education, tuition is free for Chinese citizens, although parents still need to pay for some small fees like schoolbooks.

Public or private school?

One of the major questions when sending your children to school in China is whether you want to send them to a public Chinese school or to a private international school. As the cost of education rises and the number of companies paying for tuition decreases, expat parents are increasingly turning to Chinese schools for their children’s education. While many international schools only enrol expats, Chinese schools are required by law to accept the children of legal foreign residents. Unlike for Chinese citizens, local Chinese schools are not free for expatriates but tuition is much lower than at international schools.

The disadvantage of local schools is obviously the language barrier. Children should have a good grasp on Mandarin before entering, as everything is conducted in Mandarin. Non-Chinese speakers are usually set back several years, normally to first grade.

Local schools have class sizes ranging from 20 to 30 students per class. Registration procedures must be handled by parents (mostly in Chinese) at whichever authorised local school they choose. In order to register you must take your child’s passport, a Chinese-issued health form, your work permit and your residence permit with you.

The national curriculum allocates most of the day to Chinese study and maths with a focus on preparing students for entrance exams to middle school, high school and university. Many parents find the local Chinese education system beneficial for younger children, but turn to international education for high school, unless the child plans to attend university in China.

If your children stay at a local school until Senior high school, their curriculum will end with the intense National University Entrance Examinations, which determine the kind of university studies that they will be admitted to afterwards. Due to their rigorous testing, these exams are also recognized in most other countries for university admission.

International schools in China

For expatriates wanting a more international education for their children, there is a wide range of excellent international schools available in China. Curriculums include the International Baccalaureate (IB), the English National Curriculum, American-based curricula, and in major cities also German, French and other curricula. Teachers are generally well qualified, and most schools also organize a wide range of extracurricular activities such as art, music, drama and sports.

Unfortunately, this quality comes at a high price. Private international schools in China are among the most expensive in the world, which is the reason that schooling provisions are one of the most demanded parts of expatriate corporate packages. At top-notch international schools in prominent cities, tuition can reach up to US$ 25,000 per student per year. Even in cheaper schools, you will still have to pay US$ 10,000-15,000 per year.

Despite these tuitions, international schools are in high demand and places fill up quickly. Waiting lists are common in the admissions process, so send in you child’s application in early March if you want to get a place for the following school year. Enrolment procedures differ, but most schools ask for your child’s passport, health records and previous school records. In some cases, you will also have to submit a recommendation letter and your child might have to show up for an interview and an entrance exam.

Further reading

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