The Chinese Education System: International schools in China


In our world of interconnected global education, we explore the Chinese education system. Plus the high demand for both British and international schools in China- both from Chinese and expat families. This blog will give you an overview on education in China, especially if you are planning to move relocate there.

The Chinese education system is highly competitive and there are numerous tests throughout the different stages. Despite this, the levels of school failure are low and the literacy rate exceeds 94%, according to World Bank data.

Chinese Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education is in charge of controlling and managing the educational system. Education is free for all students during the compulsory stage, which ranges from six to fifteen years. From that moment on, students must pay fees. This produces a notable drop in students at higher levels. In recent years, the Chinese government has invested heavily in education. The facilities have been improved, new schools have been built and more teachers have been hired to improve the country’s educational level.

However, there is a huge demand in China from aspirational parents wanting a western-style education. These families want only the very best international opportunities for their children. Equally expatriate parents prize the value of educating their children in this dynamic relocation hotspot. While China has outnumbered the rest of the world for international schools (5,344) there is still a high demand.

British Independent Schools in China

The cost of attending fee-paying English-style schools in the region can create a significant challenge for relocating families. Especially as there is a scarcity of school places. The good news is that increasing numbers of British independent schools are opening their doors in China. Dulwich College led the way in 2004 and now has 4 schools; two in Shanghai and one each in Beijing and Suzhou. Later in 2005, Harrow opened a school in Beijing. Since then there has been a constant flow of British Independent schools opening in China. Recent additions include King’s College School and Lucton School,which opened in 2018, and Uppingham School in 2019. Westminster School and Wycombe Abbey International School plan to open in 2020, accepting both expat and Chinese children. 

Latest estimates expect the number of students at English international schools in China to grow from 475,000 in September 2017 to 881,000 by 2022. 

Types of International School in China

Four types of international school are allowed by China’s Ministry of Education:

  • Schools for Children of Foreign Workers (SCFW), provide international education for the expatriate community and are also accessible to Chinese families who have foreign a passport. They are not allowed to enroll Chinese nationals and don’t have to offer the local curriculum.
  • Sino-Foreign Cooperative Schools are joint ventures between a Chinese owner and a foreign education company or school. These are restricted to secondary and higher education. The foreign organisation typically provides the teaching and learning. Both expatriate and Chinese students can attend these schools.
  • Chinese-owned private schools are able to provide bilingual learning. An increasing number of Chinese/English bilingual private schools, with a distinctly international focus, are opening. Many offer internationally recognised diplomas and mostly serve Chinese students.
  • A few Chinese-owned state schools are now running an international stream as an option for high-school students.

The benefits of learning Chinese

Results of a survey of UK business leaders this year showed that 77 per cent of them believe that speaking Mandarin Chinese will give school leavers a career advantage. The UK government is investing in programmes to help students learn the language.

In fact, there are many top CEOs outside the UK that speak Chinese as a second language. For example, Mark Zuckerberg is wowing audiences across the world with his new Chinese Skills. Above all, those important business executives in China. 

For this and more reasons, some international schools are promoting the development of two languages in depth at school. At 3e International School in Beijing, the students are approximately half Chinese nationals and half expatriates. It is a dual immersion bilingual school – children spend half of the day in an English classroom with two lead English teachers and half of the day in a Chinese classroom with two lead Chinese teachers. They also attend classes in Art, Music and Sport.

The endless possibilities which open up to students who become fluent in Chinese, help them to grow into globally minded young adults who can communicate, appreciate and respect others across all cultures. It’s really exciting to consider what the future may hold for them.

 If you are relocating to China, please contact us for support and advice on international, British and Chinese schools. We are also experienced in helping families moving from China and Hong Kong to the UK education system.