Schools in Beijing are among the best in China, offering expat parents options at public, private and international institutions. An education in Beijing can, however, be expensive for foreign students, since they either have to pay higher public school fees than local families, or the high prices of private and international schools.
The best option for expats is to try and negotiate an education allowance as part of their relocation package, although this is not a guarantee. Those who do manage to get this benefit tend to have a much easier time finding and choosing a school in Beijing.
Public schools in Beijing
The basic public education system consists of preschool, primary and secondary school. Primary school typically begins at age six and lasts six years, followed by junior and senior secondary school, where students either follow an academic or vocational programme.
The primary concern for Beijing’s public schools is to prepare students for the gaokao, the National Higher Education Entrance Examination, which plays a large role in how successful Chinese children become in their adult lives as it is the means through which they gain entry into a Chinese university.
Unfortunately for many expats, creativity and individual thinking come second to logical thinking and analytical skills in Chinese public schools, and teaching styles and content may not be the best fit for everyone. Many expats find that the transition to the rigorous public schools in Beijing is too much for their children, and themselves, to handle, and prefer to enrol their kids at private or international schools.
Private schools in Beijing
Local private schools in Beijing generally cater to wealthy locals, even though the academic standards at public schools are often considered to be better. This might partially be owing to the lack of government funding and involvement, which can also mean that school standards vary in quality and approach.
Some schools do provide different academic tracks for local and international students. An English track may be based on a foreign curriculum with a Chinese requirement, while the Chinese track is based on the national curriculum, although the best of these will often have a strong emphasis on English as well.
International schools in Beijing
English-language international schools in Beijing generally enrol students from four to 18 years old and provide a wide range of sporting and cultural activities, as well as classes taught in English by qualified and experienced teachers, most of whom are from English-speaking countries.
Depending on the school, expat students will either be able to continue with their home country’s curriculum or pursue an International Baccalaureate programme.
Although most international schools teach in English, many are in other languages, including French, Japanese and German. Many international schools are located in suburban areas of Beijing such as Shunyi, which can be a long commute from the city centre. Kindergarten and lower educational centres can be found easily in the city centre.
Tuition is similar to international schools around the world and generally becomes more expensive as the student ages.
Placement at international schools is tough. Some companies that regularly relocate expats will reserve spots in select top schools, and expat employees should discuss their education options and the admissions process with their employer well before arriving.
Homeschooling in Beijing
With Chinese parents increasingly becoming tired of the rote nature of the Chinese public education system, more have turned to homeschooling as an alternative. This might also be an option for expats staying short term who are unable to afford private or international schools.
Expats should be aware that homeschooling is essentially illegal in China, and is largely practised based on a legal oversight despite the law explicitly stating that children have to attend a school for at least nine years. The government is vocal about its disapproval of homeschooling and has released numerous statements to this effect. Homeschooled children in China are prevented from writing the gaokao, which essentially means they are unable to attend a Chinese university.
Special needs education in Beijing
As the level of support for special education needs in Beijing schools is variable, we recommend that expat parents contact the schools directly for the most accurate information.
Special needs education may be best at international schools which integrate students with disabilities and learning disorders and difficulties into mainstream classes. These schools will provide extra support sessions, assistant teachers and counsellors, and many cover a range of physical, psychological and behavioural challenges. This is not consistently the case, though, and parents to children with disabilities are advised to begin their school search as early as possible.
When moving to Beijing, expats can find relocation companies to be helpful and assist in finding schools which provide the best fit.
Tutors in Beijing
Tutors can be found easily in Beijing, for both adults and children. Hiring a tutor is common for children who want some extra help in particular subject areas or around exam time. Parents can find tutors through word of mouth, by asking at their school or by searching through online tutor portals and companies, such as Apprentus.