The 4 types of international schools in China
Students at the Banchang Primary School in Beijing wave US and China flags. Source: AFP/Ng Han Guan

The demand for international schools in China is not waning anytime soon. Though the scene is relatively young, there are now more than 600 English-speaking international schools in the country. Most are located in Tier 1 cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, as well as other provincial capitals, such as Chengdu and Guangzhou.

Relocate magazine reports that the latest forecasts for the number of students at English international schools in China will grow from 475,000 in September 2017 to 881,000 in 2022. The demand is fueled by both expatriate families – China receives the highest number of foreign assignments in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region – and local Chinese families seeking a Western education for their children.

Chinese locals are traditionally restricted from attending international schools. But new breeds have emerged to cater to this insatiable appetite for Western-style education among the Chinese middle class.

Here’s a snapshot of the types of international schools allowed by the country’s Ministry of Education:

School for Children of Foreign Workers (SCFW)

“Expat schools,” as they are known, are where children of expatriates living in China receive an international education. These schools are not allowed to enroll local Chinese children, except those migrating from other Asian countries or with a parent who holds a foreign passport. The local curriculum is not offered here. The primary locations for SCFWs are Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong.

Global Times reported that these schools have seen a decline in enrollment by Western students in recent years, according to ISC Research, a UK-based company that provides data on the international school market. These spaces are reportedly being filled by children of returning Chinese families, Asian expats, African and German students.

Sino-Foreign Cooperative Schools (SFCS)

These refer to joint ventures between a foreign education company or school and a local Chinese owner. The former provides the teaching and learning, while the latter provides the land and funding. Both expatriate and local Chinese students of any age can attend these schools. Take note, however, that they are restricted to secondary and higher education only.

Examples of SFCS include NYU’s campus in Shanghai and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen.

Chinese-owned private schools

Cheerleaders from the Shijia Experimental School. Source: AFP/Greg Baker

Local Chinese children can enrol in these more internationally-oriented schools, of which many offer bilingual learning and internationally-recognised qualifications. The international element  – such as an emphasis on English, another foreign language or well-funded arts programs – distinguishes these institutions from Chinese public schools. They are sometimes branded ‘Bilingual Schools’ or ‘Experimental Schools’.

Chinese-owned public schools

Some public schools in China now offer lucrative ‘international streams’ that teach the national Chinese curriculum in both Chinese and English as an option to high school students.

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