Middle option may be best
Many families view a posting on the mainland as the perfect opportunity for their children to learn Putonghua - speaking the language with perfect tones and spot-on idioms.
The mainland offers ample opportunities for a local education, as the state-run schools open their classes to outsiders, realising there is money to be made from foreign-born students. When expatriate parents take a closer look at the system, doubts begin to surface. Schools on the mainland take the cramming approach. Class sizes are generally large, pupils are encouraged to listen, not question, and the buildings and facilities are utilitarian.
Which is why the international schools in Beijing and Shanghai continue to be the expatriates' favourites. While it may sound like a great idea to have your child speaking Putonghua, there is a real danger that he, or she, could also be following a curriculum that is a world away from their own country's examination system.
Juicy expatriate packages on the mainland mean that many do not need to consider the expense too carefully when sending their offspring to international schools. Annual fees range from about HK$30,000 to HK$200,000. A handful of schools straddle both worlds by offering a bilingual education: at Daystar Academy and 3e International, half the day's lessons are conducted in English and the other half in Chinese.
Teacher Michelle Faulkner enrolled her two older children, aged three and five, at 3e, a decision that she is happy with. 'We wanted them to learn Chinese,' Faulkner says. 'It is a multicultural school with great facilities and small class sizes. The curriculum embraces the multicultural environment and the children learn not only about China's culture, customs and values, but those of their friends.' The downside is the long hours children spend at school and the high turnover of children and teachers.
Faulkner adds that 'kindergarten is a business in Beijing, as opposed to being government provided. Sometimes it feels like we are being constantly billed for the education service that the school is providing. Lunch is an additional cost'.