International schools in China attract more pupils
Parents say they prefer broader vision rather than focus on exams
After years of extracurricular tutoring helped her son win a place in a top middle school in Beijing’s Dongcheng district, Luo Yuheng encouraged him to switch to an international school in September instead of continuing his studies in the same school’s high school division.
She hopes he can use the A-level results from his three years of study at the international school to gain admission to a British university.
“I have had enough of endless examinations, day in and day out,” Luo said. “I don’t want my son to be buried in test papers in high school. What’s the point of having to spend so much time in mathematics Olympiads when he clearly won’t use much of it when he grows up?”
Tutoring for mathematics Olympiad competitions is very popular among the parents of primary school pupils on the mainland because top scores can secure a place in a top junior high school. But Luo had her daughter, a primary school pupil, drop such tutoring, replacing it with sports training and language lessons with a native English speaker.
“To avoid repeating the wrong path, I’ve signed up for a course to prepare my daughter now for international schools,” she said.
Luo is just one of a growing number of affluent Chinese parents opting to send their children to international schools on the mainland. Some do so to prepare them for tertiary study overseas, while other are simply frustrated by the mainland’s exam-focused public school system.
The rising demand has seen the number of international schools on the mainland grow rapidly in the past couple of years. More than 60 opened last year alone according to a report by New School Insight, a consultancy firm. It said that by October this year the mainland was home to 661 international schools: 122 for foreigners, 321 private ones that also admit mainlanders, and 321 affiliated to public schools.
The report estimated there were around 430,000 students studying at international schools on the mainland, with 86 per cent of them mainlanders – more than a third of whom are boarders.
New School Insight co-founder and chief executive May Wu said tuition fees at some international schools on the mainland were higher than those in the United States, but parents preferred to have younger children study closer to home.
In the past, parents wanted their children to go abroad and stay there, Wu said, but now they wanted them to broaden their outlook with an overseas education and then return to the mainland. At the same time, social values were changing and parents preferred to keep families together, which led to increased demand for places in international schools on the mainland.
Wu said parents preferred international schools not only because they were “less tiring”, but also because they offered more opportunities, a broader vision and skills that were better suited to survival in modern society.
After a year of study at an international school in Beijing, a 13-year-old pupil would have completed assignments designed to encourage self-reliance, originality and entrepreneurship, whereas public schools put more emphasis on preparing for exams.
“The international school provides many scenarios that can be very similar to a future workplace, while in public schools the scenario is a singular one: to find answers to the questions,” Wu said.