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China: foreign-run schools under scrutiny

Foreign-run schools in China are coming under closer scrutiny as the country launches ambitious plans to reform its education system over the next 15 years, with some institutions noting increased inspections from officials and concerns that new regulations may affect their operations.

ChinaPrivate schools, including those run by foreign brands, are growing in popularity among China's middle classes. Photo: Callan Quinn

There are currently 883 international schools and campuses in China catering to over 359,000 students

There are currently 883 international schools and campuses in China catering to over 359,000 students, of which around 58% are Chinese nationals.

“It is perceived that the iCPSs are attracting some of the best students from wealthy families”

“There has been a reaction against the rapid increase of private schools in China, particularly from big public schools where it is perceived that the iCPSs [international Chinese-owned private schools] are attracting some of the best students from wealthy families,” Richard Gaskell of ISC Research told The PIE News.

“And so the government has taken steps to tighten regulations and closely scrutinise schools to ensure regulations are met.”

Traditionally, international schools in China have all been SCFNs (schools for the children of foreign nationals), which are not allowed to take on local Chinese students.

Parents wishing for their children to have a more international-style education previously had little choice but to send their children abroad.

ICPSs have, however, exploded in popularity over the last few years.  These are local schools that sign service agreements with (often British) institutions, who provide westernised learning and pedagogy methods.

Several joint venture universities have also set up shop in the county over the last few years.

“With the development iCPSs, options for Chinese parents to keep their children close to home prior to university and yet receive an education that prepares them well for universities globally, have expanded,” Gaskell added.

Such schools are popular among middle-class Chinese parents not just for the prestige, but their small class sizes, the opportunities they offer for a bilingual education or because children cannot attend local schools due to living in a city different to that listed on their family’s household registration (hukou).

However, the government’s China’s Education Modernisation 2035, released in February, along with subsequent announcements from the Ministry of Education, suggest changes to their operations may be on the way.

Already from the ages of seven to 15, which are the compulsory education years in the country, all students must now learn the Chinese curriculum in full and sit the Zhongkao exam.

“There has been a reaction against the rapid increase of private schools in China”

However, from grades 10 to 12 they can still follow an international education and take exams such as A-levels or the IB Diploma.

The government stated that it also wishes to “improve the quality of Sino-foreign cooperation in the running of schools” and create “inclusive private kindergartens”, the meanings of which are yet to be fully understood.

Reports suggest it additionally plans to forbid the use of testing during the admissions procedures, which would allay the fears of local competitors who feel iCPSs are taking the best students.

SCFNs are unlikely to be affected by these new government changes.

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